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Industrialization, Chemicals and Human Health

Advances in technology have revolutionized American life. However, accompanying these advances are new chemicals, different levels of exposure and new work conditions. Each year we increase the number of chemicals in commonly used. Many represent advances in technology or have improved our lives significantly. Unfortunately, they sometimes have a negative impact on human health, if used incorrectly or disposed of improperly:

  • How does a society maintain a safe environmental health in the work place and the home?

In American history class students review the social, economic and health impacts of industry. Toxicologists are the biomedical scientists who study the adverse effects of chemicals on living organisms. Lessons in chemistry support students’ understanding of physical and chemical properties of substances, molecular structure, and toxicity, while they examine the advances and consequences of the development and use of chemicals and industrialization.

Work by Carl Sandberg, Upton Sinclair as well as photographic documentation and an introduction to the Muckrakers provides a foundation for students in language arts to not only examine industrialization and its impact, but also to dip into poetic analysis, narrative writing, plus examine and write editorials.

In this unit, students develop an understanding of basic environmental toxicology while addressing basic chemical and physical properties of substances. As students gain an understanding about basic environmental toxicology they are also introduced to the health impacts of industrialization from a historical perspective.

This unit addresses the education standards for 11th grade.

Major Project - Wildcat Dumping

The major project mphasizes the responsible use and disposal of chemicals by industry and targets a worldwide environmental health issues that affect many communities today. Students investigate cleanup techniques for manmade environmental health problems, learn about the role of the newspaper for informing the public, and apply their understanding of the need for chemicals in modern society. The students research the impacts of local environmental health problems on the members of society. The unit develops science and health literacy thru a variety of reading, writing, and library research activities. The students will compose a newspaper editorial, from the perspective of a community member, which exposes the effects of illegal dumping and persuades readers to take action.


'Image of Industrialization Chemicals and Human Health

Scientist Profile - Dr. Ornella Selmin Photograph of Dr Selmin with the University of Arizona

For more information and background check out this great article
Lessons Learned? Chemical Plant Safety Since Bhopal
from Environmental Health Perspectives

Week - Connection Chemistry Social Studies Language Arts Math
Week 1
In science students are introduced to Chernobyl incident and the resulting environmental health impacts and the difference between types of ionizing radiation.  Social studies will begin to look at standardization and mass production in industry, the Industrial Revolution in America, and the relationship between the business, the worker, and the landscape. In language arts students will be introduced to the poetry of Carl Sandburg who wrote during the Industrial Revolution.  Students will review the units of the metric system in math.
Reactor Incident The Parts Make up the Whole Chalk Talk How Big is It?
Radioactive Isotopes The ABCs of Industry Sandburg Study
Radiation Experiments A Society of Employees Poetic Analysis
Toxic Milk Return Flush it! Throw it!
Week 2
In science students will study of the environmental risks caused by burning fossil fuels and the fundamental concepts of chemistry such as the law of conservation of matter in order to understand that all of our energy choices contain a certain risk.  In social studies students explore the connections between industry, pollutants and contaminants, and human health.  They will be writing a piece of poetry in language arts, modeled after Carl Sandburg’s poetry, capturing the experience of a worker they know.  Math will support science by helping students better understand what a concentration of one part per million.
Our Future – Nuclear Power Pollution and Contaminants How Small is It?

Energy Debate - Global Warming

Energy of a peanut Leftovers, do you want them? Poetry Writing
Combustion reactions Dangerous for Your Health
Week 3
In science students will explore how global warming will affect the earth, study the different fractions of crude oil, and draw covalent bonding diagrams for the compounds associated with the Bhopal disaster.  Through social studies students will learn what industries produced during the Industrial Revolution, unfriendly labor policies, and the affects on the worker.  In language arts students will see pictures of child laborers from the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s and explore some readings about these children before composing their own narrative stories based on an image of a child laborer.  Math will review the process of unit analysis to convert between units of radioactivity and will examine the Chernobyl disaster.

Energy Debate –
Sea Level Rise

Energy Debate –

Working 9-5 Slide Show

Chernobyl 1


Energy Debate-
The Experience of the Child Laborer
Runaway Reaction Narrative Nuts and Bolts

Covalent Bonding and Molecular Geometry

Narrative Writing

Chernobyl 2

Week 4
Science classes will investigate factors that affect the rate of reaction in the context of how the chemical plant in Bhopal blew up as well as looking at TCE and the Love Canal disaster.  In social studies students will investigate the regulatory reforms that began taking place during the Progressive Era due to muckraker literature.  Students will read an excerpt from The Jungle as a way to expose the atrocities that took place in the meat packing industry in Chicago in language arts.  Students in math will calculate the amount of everyday food products or liquids that would need to be consumed in order to experience toxic effects.
Rate of Reaction  

Love Canal


EXTRA! Read about it!
Slide Show

Week 5
In science students continue to investigate different toxins that are a part of our contemporary environment due to our highly industrialized society.  Social studies classes expand on that theme by looking at how internationalized industries are.  Students in language arts compare working conditions for adult laborers during the Industrial Revolution to contemporary conditions using non-fiction examples.

Investigate contaminants The Jungle and readers response The Portion is the Poison
Oxidation with potassium Permanganate. Today: American Industry and the Multinationals Conditions Today
Redox Health and the Community.
Week 6
Students will prepare for the final project in science classes by continuing to investigate the chemicals that are a part of our daily lives due to industrialization.  In social studies they will research different industries or community elements that have contributed to sanitation and pollution problems in the past.  Students will learn about editorials and how to write one in language arts classes.
Jekyll & Hyde Diseases are real The Editorial  
Efficient Fertilizer The Parts of an Editorial

Heat of Solution
The Editorial Revisited
Is it Worth the Risk? Editorial Writing
Week 7
The final project will be focused on wildcat dumping and how chemicals contaminate our communities and cause environmental health problems.  This work will be coordinated through social studies and will utilize all the skills acquired and knowledge learned in the four disciplines this quarter.
 Wildcat Dumping Site
  Today: Our Communities, Our Health
  Wildcat Dumping

PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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