Google Search Box.

4th Background Information for Teachers

Please review the background information for teachers in the Grade 3 Module. It has important information about children's exposure to particulate matter and toxins and how these air pollutants are harmful to children. That module includes the Air Quality Index that you can use to help your students understand when it is not safe to play outdoors.

Coal, oil (petroleum) and natural gas are the fossil fuels. They were formed between 350 and 50 million years ago as ancient plants and animals decayed and were buried in the earth. The heat and pressure chemically changed these plants and animals into fuels. Coal was formed from ferns, trees, and grasses. Heat and pressure over the millions of years also changed the remains of tiny sea plants and animals into the other fossil fuels, oil and natural gas. They are all forms of concentrated carbon and other compounds. They are non-renewable resources since each of them can take millions of years to be replaced.

Extracting these fossil fuels from the earth and transporting them cause environmental problems such as oil spills, mountain top removal and strip mining for coal mining, harmful metals and chemicals leaking into the ground and water supplies, pollution from natural gas that escapes in the mining process, and pipeline construction and spills. The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 surpassed any previous catastrophes, spoiling125 miles of Louisiana's coast, washing oil up along Mississippi, Florida, and Alabama barrier islands, and leaving a vast and ongoing trail of death and damage to plant and animal life in the gulf and coastal areas.

During the industrial revolution, coal and oil were available and relatively cheap for use by industries and transportation. People became aware of the danger in burning these fuels as dark clouds of pollution covered the industrial cities. Our societies began actively searching for alternate energy sources that are friendlier to our earth. However, the United States still depends on fossil fuels as its main energy source. Almost all of our transportation depends on gasoline, a major petroleum product. Over 180 pollutants are released into the air from fossil fuel transportation, power plants, and industrial processes.

Fossil fuels pollute our air during their conversion from crude oil or coal to useful products like gasoline. They also continue to emit damaging gases into the atmosphere during their actual usage. Burning fossil fuels releases particles of solids made of sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and more. This incomplete combustion is a main contributor to human-induced climate change, and these changes are causing severe effects such as sea level changes, melting polar ice, declining reef ecosystems, and rapid changes in the plants and animals in ecosystems around the globe. These pollutants also contribute to diseases such as emphysema, bronchitis, and asthma.

For deeper information with excellent graphics, see the following website


Resources to help illustrate the lessons:

4th Introduction

4th Background Information

4th Inquiry Activities