Whirling Swirling Air Pollution
December 2020
Grades: 9-12 and Adult
Subject: Science
Time: 1 hour
Student Objectives
To bring awareness to the air pollutants
that we contribute to the air shed each
day.
To commit to reducing activities that
contribute to air pollution.
Materials
Water
Clear plastic cups
Food coloring (green, yellow, blue & red)
Props can be used while narrating this
activity. Use your imagination. Here are
some suggestions:
o Small plastic car
o Child size lawn mower
o Fast food containers
o Shower and hair products
o Electric hair dryer
o Perfumes
o Bug spray
Background Information
There are numerous ways that everyday
human activities can contribute to air pollution.
These activities may not be immediately apparent
as a source of pollution when you consider them
from an individual viewpoint. However, the
cumulative effect can be profound. This activity
attempts to simulate the cumulative effect of
various air pollution sources upon the air shed.
An air shed is a part of the atmosphere that
behaves in a coherent way with respect to the
dispersion of emissions. Potential emissions include
the following:
Particulate Matter (PM)
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Nitrogen Oxides (NOx)
Sulfur Oxides (SOx)
Carbon Monoxide (CO)
In this activity, water is used to simulate mixing,
which occurs in the air.
Setting the Stage
RED food coloring represents car and truck
pollution.
GREEN food coloring represents lawn and
garden, motor boat, and construction
engines.
BLUE food coloring represents consumer
products and paints.
YELLOW food coloring represents industry
and commercial activities.
Small clear cups half full of water represents
the air shed.
Students work in pairs
Adapted from the Air and Waste Management Association
Environmental Resource Guide for Air Quality
EPA-456/F-20-006
Air Quality Flag
PROGRAM

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Whirling Swirling Air Pollution
December 2020
Activity
Narrate A Day in the life of... (anyone: adults,
teenagers, a movie star in New York City, etc.). Be
creative with your story and embellish as needed.
This can be a humorous and exaggerated
depiction of how someone might excessively
contribute air pollutants during their daily
activities. Tell the students the water represents
their air shed. During the narration they are to
add a drop of food coloring when they hear
something that contributes to air pollution. Have
fun with this!
Alarm goes off! Jump into the shower and get
ready for your day.
	VOC sources: perfumed soap, shampoo
and shaving supplies in the shower; use
excessive amount of hot water.
	Towel dry and use deodorant, electric hair
dryer, hair spray, perfume, fingernail
polish to repair a nail.
	CO, NOX, PM2.5, SOX sources: Combustion
to heat water.
Add one drop of 5LUE food coloring to
your air shed.
Jump into your car and drive to work! Single
driver NO carpool; forget your dry cleaning back
track to home; go to drive thru at Starbucks.
	VOCs, CO, NOx, SOx, PM sources.
	Cold start in your automobile: High CO
emissions.
Add one drop of RED food coloring to your
air shed.
Arrive at Work!
	Industrial sources: PM, CO, VOCs, NOx, SOx;
manufacturing, mills, construction, space
heating; choose any job that might
contribute air pollutants.
	Commercial sources: PM, CO, VOCs, NOx,
SOx printing, painting, delivery, small
manufacturing, dry cleaning.
Add one drop of 'ELLOW food coloring to
your air shed.
Time for your lunch break! Take friends with you.
Two co-workers want a burger; sit in drive thru 10
min on a high ozone day. The other two want tacos
- another drive thru idling to stay cool with the AC
on.
	PM, CO, VOCs, NOx, SOx
Add one drop of RED food coloring to your
air shed.
Eat your lunch (flame broiled burger with fries):
	PM, CO, VOCs, NOx, SOx
Add one drop of 5LUE food coloring to your
air shed.
Drive back to work!
 PM, CO, VOCs, NOx, SOx
Add one drop of RED food coloring to your
air shed.
Back at work! Turns AC up. Same sources
mentioned above.
Add one drop of 'ELLOW food coloring to
your air shed.
Adapted from the Air and Waste Management Association
Environmental Resource Guide for Air Quality
EPA-456/F-20-006
Air Quality Flag
PROGRAM

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Whirling Swirling Air Pollution
December 2020

Activity (Cont.)

Time to go home! Drive home in your car: Almost
home and had to turn around to go back to the
grocery store.
 PM, CO, VOCs, NOx, SOx
Add one drop of RED food coloring to your
air shed.
Stop off to pick up the dry cleaning!
 VOCs
Add one drop of 5LUE food coloring to
your air shed.
Discussion
Individuals should evaluate the environmental
impacts which result from the choices we make in
our everyday activities. When you make a choice
that reduces or eliminates the amount of
pollution you contribute to the air you also reduce
the need for technologies to remove or recycle
the pollution.
Have the students design a sequence which
describes their daily activities. Ask the students if
they are willing to make one or two lifestyle
changes for a semester.
Get ready for the Barbeque! It's 4:30 just enough
time to mow the yard before sundown.
 PM, CO, VOCs, NOx, SOx
Add one drop of GREEN food coloring to
your air shed.
Cookout! The mosquitos are out - spray everyone
with the repellant. Get charcoal hot
- use lots of igniter fluid. Grill hamburgers.
 PM, CO, VOCs, NOx, SOx
Add one drop of 5LUE food coloring to
your air shed.
Now look at the air shed in the glass. The original
water was clear and pristine.
	What happened to the air shed?
	What contributed to the pollution?
	What actions were unnecessary, careless?
	What would you do differently?
Adapted from the Air and Waste Management Association
Environmental Resource Guide for Air Quality
EPA-456/F-20-006
Air Quality Flag
PROGRAM

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