ERIC Identifier: ED265075
Publication Date: 1985-00-00
Author: Disinger, John F.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Science Mathematics and Environmental Education Columbus OH.
Teaching about Hazardous Materials. ERIC/SMEAC Environmental
Education Digest No. 2.
Air quality and surface water quality were the initial concerns of the
present environmental movement because they are obvious and dramatic. Generally,
concerns about other wastes and hazardous materials received attention in terms
of the aesthetic aspects of their presence, littering or unsightly disposal
sites. The concept and practice of underground disposal of both solid and liquid
waste materials were generally accepted, even promoted -- out of sight, out of
mind. It has taken major "incidents" at Love Canal, Three Mile Island, and
Bhopal, India, to bring hazardous substances problems forward as necessary --
and demanding -- of attention. For example, a recent report by the Comptroller
General of the United States (1985) begins with this statement:
"Addressing the problems related to the handling of hazardous substances has
become a national concern. Hazardous substances can seep into groundwater
supplies, contaminate land, and escape into the air, thereby posing real or
potential threats of damage to human health and to the environment."
Federal programs dealing with hazardous substances, incuding their disposal,
were initiated by the solid Waste Disposal Act (SWDA) of 1965; the Resource
Recovery Act (RRA) of 1970; the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) of l974; the
Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976; the Resource Conservation and
Recovery Act (RCRA) of l976; the Comprehensive Response, Compensation, and
Liablity Act (Superfund) of 1980; and the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) of
l982. All acts but one focus on waste materials; TSCA addreses the regulation of
the more than 43,000 chemicals identified by the U. S. Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) as potentially hazardous to human health (Baldwin, 1985). EPA
anticipates the addition of thousands of additional chemicals to the list; the
current rate of addition is on the order of 1000 per year.
WHAT LAWS DEAL WITH WASTE DISPOSAL?
The other laws noted above all deal with handling of waste materials, with
increasing emphasis over the years on hazardous wastes. SWDA (1975) marked the
beginning of the federal government's assumption of a major role in the problem
of solid waste, providing federal leadership in research, training,
demonstration of new tehnologies, technical assistance, and grants for state and
interstate solid waste planning programs. It concentrated on the concept of
conserving natural resources by reducing waste and unsalvagable materials and by
solid waste recovery. RRA (1970) emphasized recycling, authorizing funds for
demonstration grants for recycling systems and for studies of methods to
encourage resource recovery, and required EPA to publish guidelines for
construction and operation of solid waste systems. These guidelines are binding
on federal agency operations and on federally funded projects (Frost, 1985).
EPA's definition of hazardous waste incudes waste substances which are
flammable, corrosive, reactive, or toxic (U.S. General Accountng Office, 1985).
EPA has compiled a list of 361 chemicals in 16 categories that pose hazards if
improperly discarded (Council on Environmental Quality, 1980); examples include
acids, bases, heavy metals, solvents, pesticides, phenols, methane,
polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), disease agents, and radioactive isotopes.
SDWA's (1974) purpose is to protect the nation's drinking water by
establishing federal standards for substances which may be adverse to human
health and to protect underground water supplies by controlling injection of
wastes (Frost, 1985).
A basic thrust of RCRA (1976) provisions for hazardous waste management was
to establish requirements for the safe treatment storage, and disposal of
hazardous waste. Under the Act, EPA promulgated design and operating
requirements for the nation's approximately 5000 treatment, storage, and
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF SUPERFUND?
Superfund (1980) was designed to provide for cleanup of the nation's
hazardous waste disposal sites, of which EPA has estimated there are more than
18,000 across the country. Included among such sites are abandoned facilities,
midnight (illegal) dumps, transportation-related spills, and incineration
plants. Superfund was necessary because previous legislation made no allowance
for abandoned facilities; it also increased specificity of requirements.
WHAT MANAGEMENT OPTIONS ARE AVAILABLE?
Frequently, hazardous wastes are placed in drums, tanks, or other containers,
in lagoons or pits, or scattered or poured on the ground, or are buried. The
problem with all these techniques is the lack of long-term containment;
containers may rupture or corrode, lagoons or pits are not sealed permanently,
and in all cases the wastes may pollute the soil and, more insidiously,
groundwater. Not enough is known about groundwater movement to permit
development of a complete assessment of the dangers of such pollution. What is
known points clearly to both short-term and long-range negative effects on
environmental quality and human health.
The ideal management choice of dealing with hazardous wastes is to lessen
quantities generated -- by altering industrial processes, industrial outputs,
and consumer behavior (Baldwin, 1985). Once generated, hazardous wastes must be
either disposed of or stored. EPA's recommended priorities for waste disposal
include recovery and recycling as the preferred alternative, followed by
reprocessing (making hazardous wastes less hazardous), then by incineration. For
storage, EPA's prioritized alternatives include,in order, deep well injection,
solidification and encapsulation, and (as a last choice) dispoal in a secure
WHAT TEACHING MATERIALS ARE AVAILABLE?
Teaching about hazardous materials presents many of the same problems as does
teaching about environmental concerns in general. Identification of the proper
location, or locations, to include such teaching within an existing curriculum
is difficult. Locating up-to-date, accurate information and teaching aids useful
in such an endeavor is time-consuming, and sometimes appears fruitless. Parallel
to public perceptions of solid waste problems, many educational materials in the
general area deal with litter, basically from an aesthetic perspective.
Educators have generally followed the public perception that "if we don't see
them, they (waste materials) are not a problem."
Again as is typical of environmental topics, most of the available teaching
materials dealing with hazardous substances stress either the scientific aspects
of the problem or the need for institutional (primarily governmental) responses
to them. Thus, teaching about hazardous materials is properly a concern for both
science and social studies instruction -- and is likely to be incomplete if
either aspect is omitted or short-changed. It is to be hoped that developing
emphases on science/society /technology/environment teaching and learning will
help alleviate this situation.
Nonetheless, teaching materials dealing with hazardous substances have been
and are being developed; a number of them have been announced, and are
available, through the ERIC system. Noted below is a representative sample of
such materials made available through ERIC during the past year.
A secondary school guide presenting toxic waste as an example of a current
issue requiring social action is INVESTIGATIONS: TOXIC WASTE, A SCIENCE
CURRICULUM IN THE PARTICIPATION SERIES, by Jill S. Goldman and others (1984),
produced by Educators for Social Responsibility. A central focus is the skill of
investigation as a means of introducing students to empirical methods, to the
connection between science and social problems, and to an awareness of
environmental issues. Laboratory activities deal with toxic waste and
groundwater, testing soil and water, the effects of pH and salt on living
organisms, and detection of heavy metals in water.
TEACHER'S GUIDE: EDUCATIONAL MATERIALS IN RESOURCE RECOVERY, GRADES K-12, by
Cathy A. Berg (1984), prepared by the Division of Solid and Hazardous waste of
the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, contains a bibliography of curricula,
audiovisual aids, children's books, and publications about resource recovery,
which is presented as a strategy to reduce air and water pollution, to conserve
natural resources, and to save energy. The purpose is to promote the goal of
reducing dependence on waste disposal by reducing the amount of waste generated
and by recovery of materials and energy from waste.
Promoting hazardous materials safety through education is the objective of
HAZARDOUS MATERIALS EMERGENCY RESPONSE TRAINING INNOVATIONS, by Leslie Cole
(1984), produced by the Council of State Governments and based on the work of
the Colorado Training Institute, which has trained more than 3000 emergency
response personnel and industry officials through cooperative effort between
elements of the public and private sectors.
AN ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY OF THE LITERATURE DEALING WITH THE HAZARDOUS
CHEMICALS USED IN THE CHEMISTRY LABORATORY, by Donna J. Chaney (1984)
establishes the need for teachers to be informed of the chemicals which are
potential health hazards and indicates that educating laboratory instructors to
the hazards of certain chemicals is the necessary initial approach to reducing
their dangers in classrooms. Recommendations include the removal of all
carcinogenic chemicals from classroom and storage areas, formulation and
implementing a predetermined waste disposal program before a laboratory activity
is performed, and having all laboratory instructors participate in a formal
health safety program.
Designed for secondary school social studies, DIFFICULT CHOICES ABOUT
ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION, 1984 NATIONAL ISSUES FORUM, edited by Keith Melville
(1984), prepared for the Public Agenda Foundation, considers the dilemmas and
choices confronting Americans concerned with their environment. Hazardous Wastes
are a major focus of the presentation.
WHAT ADDITIONAL SOURCES EXIST?
An ERIC search will locate additional documents of potential use, but not
much in the way of "packaged curricula" in this area. Other sources useful in
developing instructional materials dealing with hazardous substances include the
National Technical Information Service (5285 Port Royal Road, Springfield, VA
22161; 703-487-4650) data base of the U.S. Department of Commerce, which serves
as a repository of federal governmental documents in all areas, and the
Environmental Quality Instructional Resources Center (1200 Chambers Road,
Columbus, OH 43212; 614-422-6717), which catalogs and makes available printed
instructional materials, mostly post-secondary, in areas dealing with
environmental protection. The Econews Network, a link to cable and Public
Broadcasting System stations across the country, supplies television programs
dealing with environmental news, interviews, and documentaries, including
several pertinent to hazardous substances. These programs are also available for
sale and rental in videocassette format; contact Econews, P.O. Box 35473, Los
Angeles, CA 90035; 213-559-9160.
The most recent entry in ERIC/SMEAC's series of teaching activity books in
areas related to environmental education is TEACHING ABOUT HAZARDOUS AND TOXIC
MATERIALS, compiled by John F. Disinger and Marylin Lisowski. Included are
teaching activities and suggestions across the spectrum of hazardous materials
topics for grades K-12, generally selected from materials in the ERIC data base
and reformatted so as to be particularly useful to teachers. They are organized
according to grade level and topic, and keyed to a set of selected concepts.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Baldwin, John H. ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING AND MANAGEMENT. Boulder, CO: Westview
Berg, Cathy A. TEACHER'S GUIDE: EDUCATIONAL MATERIALS IN RESOURCE RECOVERY,
GRADES K-12. 1984. ED 258 835.
Chaney, Donna J. AN ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY OF THE LITERATURE DEALING WITH THE
HAZARDOUS CHEMICALS USED IN THE CHEMISTRY LABORATORY. 1984. ED 252 379.
Cole, Leslie. HAZARDOUS MATERIALS EMERGENCY RESPONSE TRAINING INNOVATIONS.
1984. ED 259 878.
Comptroller General of the United States. "Clearer EPA Superfund Program
Policies Should Improve Cleanup Efforts." Gaithersburg, MD: General Accounting
Office, GAO/RCED-85-54, February 6, 1985.
Council on Environmental Quality. ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY 1980. Washington, DC:
U.S. Government Printing Office, December 1980.
Disinger, John F., and Marylin Lisowski. TEACHING ABOUT HAZARDOUS AND TOXIC
MATERIALS. Columbus, OH: ERIC Clearinghouse for Science, Mathematics and
Environmental Education, December 1985. (ED number not yet assigned.)
Frost, Sherman L. "One Hundred and Seventy Significant Federal Laws
Concerning Natural Resources and Environmental and the Creation of Related
Agencies, 3rd. ed." Columbus, OH: The Ohio State University, School of Natural
Goldman, Jill S. et al. INVESTIGATIONS: TOXIC WASTE, A SCIENCE CURRICULUM IN
THE PARTICIPATION SERIES. 1984. ED 254 443.
Melville, Keith. DIFFICULT CHOICES ABOUT ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION, 1984
NATIONAL ISSUES FORUM. 1984. ED 255 432.
United States General Accounting Office. "Assessment of EPA's Hazardous Waste
Enforcement Strategy." Gaithersburg, MD: U.S. General Accounting Office,
GAO/RCED-85-166, September 5, 1985.