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AIR POLLUTION IN the Community

Activity 7 (Elaborate): Who is Polluting in

My Neighborhood (optional)

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Activity Overview

Activity Summary

In this activity, students use a database to find local sources of air pollution. They identify who the polluters are, what type of industry they come from, what the pollutants are they emit, and how much. By comparing these data to other polluters, students can determine how much their local polluters contribute to air pollution in the community.

A Note about Activities 6 & 7: These optional activities explore two topics that are relevant to students in particular communities. Activity 6 explores hazardous chemical pollutants, and Activity 7 explores local pollution sources. If your school community is located in a place where pollutants - especially toxic pollutants - may be a concern, it is highly recommended that you take the time to do these activities with students.

Activity Objectives & Materials

Approximate Time: 30-45 minutes​


  • Students will research air pollution sources in their communities and analyze their findings to think of ways to reduce air pollution in the community



  • Computer & projector

  • Student computers (highly recommended)


  • Air Pollution Sources in My Community

Modification: If student computers are not available, you can search for local pollution sources using the database and print out a set for students to use.

Standards Connection

DCI: ESS3.C: Human Impacts on Earth Systems

SEP: Analyzing Data


To Do in Advance

Use the local air pollution database to identify at least one local source of air pollution. You can access the database here: Sort or search by zip code, town, or county to find pollution sources in your area. You can choose to use the tabs for criteria pollutants or air toxics, although students will mainly use the criteria pollutants for their investigation.


Name four sources of air pollution.

  • Transportation (cars, trucks, boats, planes, etc.), power plants, chemical plants, fires, etc.

  • The purpose of this warm-up is to help focus students’ attention back on sources of air pollution before they begin researching in their own community


1. Frame the Activity

Choose a major local source of air pollution from the research you’ve done beforehand. Try to choose something that students may have heard of or know about: this can be a power plant, a chemical plant, or a local manufacturer. Ask students if they’ve ever heard of the company or building. If you can find a picture of the building, show that to students as well.  Ask them what they know about the source you’ve chosen. They may know where it is or what it does. Ask students if they know whether the source produces air pollution or what kind of pollution it makes. Tell students that it’s important for members of the community to know if there are sources of pollution nearby and how dangerous they are. They already know that the trucks from their investigation contribute pollution to the community. Today they’re going to research stationary (non-moving) sources of air pollution to see if they are affecting the community as well.

2. Community Air Pollution Database

Hand out the Air Pollution Sources in My Community sheet to students, along with student computers (if available). You may want to review the directions with students before having them begin the activity. You can also go through the first few steps with them to make sure they are on the right track. In general, students will search for information about local pollution sources, identify the kinds of pollution they are emitting, and how much.

Modification: The directions for the community database use zip code to find local pollution sources, but you can also use town or county. Check out the database in advance to know what search is best to use.

Source Data:  The information for the local pollution source database comes from the National Emissions Inventory published by the US EPA. The database is updated every three years. These data come from the 2017 version of the database. Learn more about the NEI here.

Extensions:  There are all different ways students can interact with the database if you choose to take the time to teach them how to use Google Sheets. For example, they can filter by county to isolate local sources and then sort to see what industries are the greatest polluters in the area, or identify what pollutants are emitted most in their area. You can also have them use the Air Toxics tab to find hazardous pollutant emissions in the community and then Google their health effects.

Step 4

3. Analysis

Have students answer the analysis questions to identify the type of industry and the pollutant that is most common in their area. They should also compare their local data to that of the biggest polluters in the database. For reference:

  • Electricity generation (power plants) is the largest type of emitter.

  • The most common pollutants from these sources are nitrogen oxides (NOx) and Sulfur dioxide (SO2).

4. Discussion

Give students a chance to share what they learned from their research. They may say they learned what industry is the greatest polluter in their area, or how much a local factory emits. Ask them questions about how this makes them feel. Were they surprised by the number of polluters in the area, or is their community relatively free of pollution sources? Is there something they could consider doing to address the air pollution in their community? 

5. Question Check-in

Take a moment to look back at the questions students generated during Activity 1. If there are any questions that you have answered, make sure to recognize this, and have students articulate a clear answer to the question. You may choose to use this in place of their formative assessment if appropriate.

6. Formative Assessment

Have students answer the following prompt: We know that transportation from cars and trucks like the ones we are studying, and also electricity generation are two of the biggest sources of air pollution. Why do you think these two sources of pollution are so big? What could you do to help reduce pollution from these sources? (Hint: what do you need every day that is transported from somewhere else?)

  • The goal of this formative assessment is to help students make the connection between human activities and air pollution. The reason these sources of pollution are so high is because we drive a lot, we transport a lot of things (food is the thing they use every day), and we use a lot of electricity. To shrink these sources, we can drive less, use less electricity, and eat locally produced food.

Modification:  If there is a major source of pollution in the area, consider asking students how they would address this as well.

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