Not in My City

By: Rose Gonzalez and Rachel Hughes

Time: 3 class periods
Copy hand out, research air pollutants
Materials: Hand out “City Air Pollutants”, computers with Internet access


This lesson will give students the opportunity to explore the issue of air pollution and its negative health effects on city residents. The lesson requires quite a bit of research, especially if students have never considered environmental health issues. It would be a good idea for the teacher to become familiar with some of the definitions and health effects that will be needed to complete the chart. Keep in mind that the websites listed below are intended give the teacher and students a jumpstart, but neither should limit themselves to just these sites.

Students will be able to:
1. Identify types of air pollutants in a city, their causes, and the health effects on residents.

National Geography Standard
(14) How human actions modify the physical environment.
(14 A) Evaluate the ways in which technology has expanded the human capability to modify the physical environment.
(18) How to apply geography to interpret the present and plan for the future.
(18 C) Analyze a variety of contemporary issues in terms of earth’s physical and human systems.

Teacher Background
A basic knowledge of air pollution and environmental health effects will help to give students a broader view of the Big Idea. Check the website www.airinfonow.com for a general overview of some air pollutants and health effects.

Related and Resource Websites



3 Days
1. Begin the lesson by asking the students where air pollution in urban areas mostly comes from. (Combustion of fossil fuels that are used in industry, and for heating, electricity, and cars) What about in rural areas?

2. Explain to the students that pollution affects different people in different manners. Ask them who they think might be most affected. They will probably recognize young children as vulnerable and those who have asthma and allergies, but guide them to expanding who is vulnerable by including those in crowded, poor conditions. [The combination of a variety of air pollutants is high enough to cause serious health effects to both the elderly and young who tend to be more susceptible to air pollution. Students may be able to address what pollutants are present from their science class. Explain that excessive levels of air pollution caused by carbon monoxide, ozone, and other particulates leads to respiratory cardiovascular diseases. In highly urban areas, especially in the poorest and most over crowded areas where there is poor ventilation, acute respiratory infections, tuberculosis, and other airborne infections are a major source of death and ill health (adapted and modified from United Nations Cyber School Bus, “What is Wrong with Cities”).]

3. Ask students to research one area of the United States, perhaps a major city, for which they can find the current air quality data. Typically state or counties have websites with current air quality information; for example, Pima County in Arizona has a department of environmental quality: http://www.deq.co.pima.az.us/DRDas/EdReportMain.asp . This data set, like several of those viewed, give data for different sites around the city. The site also gives information about temperature and wind which can be useful in understanding why there might be increased amounts of pollutants. For example, at higher temperatures you may see more ozone. You might want to check out other major cities for access to their environmental quality department.

4. Present the students with a chart divided into three sections.

5. Students will identify which types of pollutants are monitored by their local department of environmental health in their city, and they will explain whether their causes are geographical, climate-related, or man -made. In the third column, students will describe the human health effects of each type of air pollutant.

6. Students should draw a sketch of a city with major transportation routes and building concentrations labeled. They should then review the data for at least a week before for several data collection points around town. Is there a pattern? Are the results the same each day? What explains differential pollution across the city?

7. In a class discussion the teacher will pose the following question, “What type of man- made air pollutants can be reduced or eliminated to improve the environmental health effects on humans?” In a quiz, the teacher will ask students to list three types of air pollutants and their health effects.


Embedded Assessment
Students can be pre-assessed on their grasp of the relationship between air pollution and human health.
The chart and sketch demonstrates a student’s ability to connect causes and effects among geography, air pollution and health.

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

1996-2007, The University of Arizona
Last update: November 10, 2009
  Page Content: Rachel Hughes
Web Master: Travis Biazo