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High School: Chemistry

For more than 100 years, a large metal smelter functioned near the center of El Paso. It was decommissioned and the land was reclaimed in 2014. The El Paso teachers want their students to maintain an understanding of this important environmental story – their community's environmental conscious. Students also learned how to identify other sources of air pollution in the community, to understand these polluting compounds, and to explore options for reducing chemical pollutants and their effects.

Teachers: Jessica Favela-Casillas, Donna Gray, Erik Pichardo, Katherine Mullane-Erlick

Major Concepts:

  • Chemical processes are used to release the resources to meet the demand in manufacturing products for humans to use. Most of these activities also release undesired pollutants.
  • Chemical processes are used in industry to extract copper from copper ore.
  • Chemical analysis can determine the presence of lead in the soil.
  • Different human activities create lead compounds that pollute soil, air, and water.
  • The copper smelting process creates many pollutants including lead and sulfur dioxide, a pollutant that causes long-term health problems.


Activity 1 – Smelting Copper

In a laboratory setting, students produce a small quantity of copper and examine the waste compounds that are produced. Students separate copper from a compound through chemical means as a refinery would in the smelting process. They identify the chemical waste and the impact of the pollutants left behind after the desired element is extracted. Smelting Copper

Activity 2 – Lead Compounds in Local Soils

The process of refined metals can release harmful chemicals into the atmosphere. These chemicals move from the atmosphere into the water and soil. Students collect field samples of local soils and perform a qualitative test for the presence of lead in the soil. They map the results and explore the other ways that the local soils can be polluted with lead. Lead in Soils

Activity 3 – Local Pollution Sources

Using the Scorecard from Good Guide, students research the types and sources of local air pollution. Using the chemistry of hydro carbons, they identify polluting chemical compounds. Smelting Copper

Background Information for Chemistry