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Chemical Disasters: Good Chemicals gone Bad! (12 Favorites)

PROJECT in Physical Properties, History, Lab Safety, Chemical Properties. Last updated March 11, 2019.


Summary

In this project, students will research an industrial chemical accident. They will examine the chemicals involved including uses, hazards, chemical and physical properties. Students will investigate the cause of the accident and its repercussions.As the final product, they will film a 5-minute documentary which will be viewed in class.

Grade Level

High or Middle school

NGSS Alignment

This project will help prepare your students to meet the performance expectations in the following standards:

  • MS-PS1-2: Analyze and interpret data on the properties of substances before and after the substances interact to determine if a chemical reaction has occurred.
  • HS-PS1-5: Apply scientific principles and evidence to provide an explanation about the effects of changing the temperature or concentration of the reacting particles on the rate at which a reaction occurs.
  • HS-PS2-6: Communicate scientific and technical information about why the molecular-level structure is important in the functioning of designed materials.
  • Scientific and Engineering Practices:
    • Asking Questions and Defining Problems
    • Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

Objectives

By the end of this project, students should be able to

  • List the physical and chemical properties of the chemical(s) involved in the accident by referencing a Safety Data Sheet.
  • Explain the uses of the chemical(s).
  • Compare safety practices in place at the time of the accident and current safety practices.
  • Recognize and explain the importance of following safe practices in the chemistry lab.

Chemistry Topics

This project supports students’ understanding of

  • Chemical Safety
  • Safety Data Sheets (SDS)
  • Physical Properties
  • Chemical Properties
  • History

Time

Teacher Preparation: 15 minutes

Lesson: 4-5 hours (suggested plan below, but can be modified based on grade level)

  • 2-3 hours for research and script development
  • 1 hour for filming
  • 1 hour for class presentations

Materials

  • Computer with internet
  • Movie making software such as I-Movie or WeVideo
  • Microphones
  • Headphones

Safety

  • Due to the nature of the accidents, images and videos may show content that could be upsetting.

Teacher Notes

  • Provide students with a list of industrial chemical accidents to choose from. Some suggestions are listed below:
    • 1984, Bhopal: The Union Carbide gas leak.
    • 1990, Jonava, Lithuania, Cryogenic ammonia release.
    • 1976, Seveso: Italian dioxin crisis.
    • 2016, Spain: Les Franqueses Fire at cooling plant released chlorine
    • 2004, Russia Farmacon bromomethane explosion.
    • 2000, Romania: The Baia Mare cyanide spill.
    • 2012, South Korea; Hube Globe chemical plant accident.
    • 2013, West End Texas:Ammonium Nitrate explosion.
    • 1921, Oppau Germany: BASF Ammonium Nitrate explosion.
    • 1947, Texas City Texas: French Ship Grandcamp explosion of Ammonium Nitrate
    • 2016, Coatzacoalcos Mexico: Vinyl Chloride plant explosion.
    • 1932-1968, Minamata Bay Japan: methylmercury release in wastewater.
    • 1982 Allied Chemical Philadelphia: cumene hydro-peroxide
  • We recommend that students are organized in groups of 3 or 4, depending on class size.
  • Students will research their disaster and write a video script in a document that they will submit to you for review. Students are provided with video requirements on the student handout.
  • Provide microphones and headphones and a quiet space for students to produce video. Note that many recording devices such as a laptop or smart phone have a built in microphone.
  • The provided student handout lists requirements for the research portion as well as the script and video development. These requirements can be modified based on the grade level of the class, and student ability.

For the Student

Lesson

Background

Every day you come into contact with numerous types of chemicals, from floor wax to toothpaste. Occasionally during the manufacturing process, industrial plants run into problems and accidents occur. In this project you will research an industrial chemical accident, examine the chemicals involved including uses, hazards, chemical and physical properties. Your team will investigate the cause of the accident and its repercussions. As the final product, your group will film a 5-minute documentary that will be viewed and discussed in class.

Objectives

  • Research an industrial chemical accident/incident.
  • Determine the physical and chemical property of the chemicals involves as well as their uses.
  • Compare and contrast the safety protocols used at the time of the accident to those in place now for the chemicals involved.

Materials

  • Computer or tablet with internet access
  • Movie making program
  • Microphones
  • Headphones

Safety

  • Due to the nature of the accidents, images and videos may show content that could be upsetting.

Suggestions of Industrial disasters

Choose an accident from the list below, or decide on another chemical accident that is not listed. If you choose an accident that is not listed, your teacher must approve it before you begin.

  • 1984, Bhopal: The Union Carbide gas leak.
  • 1990, Jonava, Lithuania, Cryogenic ammonia release.
  • 1976, Seveso: Italian dioxin crisis.
  • 2016, Spain: Les Franqueses Fire at cooling plant released chlorine
  • 2004, Russia Farmacon bromomethane explosion.
  • 2000, Romania: The Baia Mare cyanide spill.
  • 2012, South Korea; Hube Globe chemical plant accident.
  • 2013, West End Texas:Ammonium Nitrate explosion.
  • 1921, Oppau Germany: BASF Ammonium Nitrate explosion.
  • 1947, Texas City Texas: French Ship Grandcamp explosion of Ammonium Nitrate
  • 2016, Coatzacoalcos Mexico: Vinyl Chloride plant explosion.
  • 1932-1968, Minamata Bay Japan: methylmercury release in wastewater.
  • 1982 Allied Chemical Philadelphia: cumene hydro-peroxide

Timeline & Tasks

Day 1: Research

  1. When and where did the accident happened?
  2. Describe the incident and cause.
  3. Who was responsible?
  4. How many people were injured or died? (short term and long term)
  5. How could the accident have been prevented?
  6. What chemicals were involved?
  7. What are the chemicals physical and chemical properties (refer to their SDS)?
  8. What are the chemicals uses, what products are they used in?
  9. What health problems did the accident cause?
  10. Relate details from the accident to chemistry topics we have covered so far.
  11. Compare and contrast the safety protocols used at the time of the accident to current safety practices for the same chemical.

Day 2-4: Script Development & Filming

As a group, you will write a Script for a 5-minute video. Your script must be reviewed and approved by your teacher prior to filming. Review the video requirements below and begin brainstorming with your group.

Video Requirements:

  • Video should be approximately 5 minutes in length.
  • Video must at minimum answer research questions listed above.
  • Images of the scene/aftermath should be included.
  • Video format may include (get creative!):
    • Newscast at the scene.
    • Voiceover showing images of incident.
    • Discovery Channel style documentary.
    • Teacher approved format of your choice.
  • Background sounds, music and/or sound effects must be included.
  • Edit video to include opening hook, transitions between scenes and ending credits.
  • Record and edit the video in WeVideo or I-Movie to present to the class.

Day 5: Class Presentation of Videos and Class Discussion

  • After each video is presented, discuss it with your group members and come up with one relevant and thoughtful question for the students who presented.