There are two versions of each lab, one with a ten-question conclusion and one with directions for a full lab report. This way the teacher has the option! Each lab is two pages to allow for one two-sided handout.
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*Some of you have already purchased my lab book – be sure to check out Page 141 !
“On December 5, 1952, a zone of high atmospheric pressure parked itself over London, bringing still air and bitter cold to the British capital. A high layer of warm air worked like a lid, trapping thick yellowish black smog over the city for four days, killing at least 4,000 and perhaps as many as 12,000 people (it's difficult to measure the exact death toll from specific air pollution events, because many of the effects are long-term). The smog reduced the whole city to a hazy twilight visibility and even worked its way into people's homes.
The main ingredient in the noxious pea soup was burning coal. Four years later, Parliament passed the Clean Air Act of 1956. The law regulated the burning of coal in some areas of London and moved coal-burning power stations away from the city. Other legislation has followed since, but London remains one of the world's hardest cities to take a deep breath in. The Guardian reports that someone dies at least once an hour in London from health problems linked to breathing polluted air, like congestive heart failure and emphysema.
But the problem extends far beyond London. Most of the world's largest cities are shrouded in smog. How bad is it? In late 2015, the Chinese government temporarily closed factories and restricted driving in Beijing to clear the capital city's air in preparation for a massive military parade. Amazed residents spent a couple of days snapping photos of clear blue skies, but less than a day after the parade, dense smog settled back over the city as if it had never left.
Atmospheric scientists actually recognize an international smog season, when air pollution tends to spike around the world, and Smog Day, the anniversary of the Great Smog, unsurprisingly falls right in the midst of it. All that foul air is taking a major toll on public health. About 7 million people a year die from diseases linked to air pollution, according to the World Health Organization. That, in turn, has an economic impact in medical expenses and lost productivity.”
“The cold weather preceding and during the Great Smog led Londoners to burn more coal than usual to keep themselves warm. Post-war domestic coal tended to be of a relatively low-grade, sulphurous variety (similar to lignite coal), while conversely, better-quality ‘hard’ coals (such as anthracite coal) tended to be exported, which increased the amount of sulphur dioxide in the smoke. There were also numerous coal-fired power stations in the Greater London area, including Fulham, Battersea, Bankside, Greenwich and Kingston upon Thames, all of which added to the pollution. According to the UK's Met Office, the following pollutants were emitted each day during the smoggy period: 1,000 tonnes of smoke particles, 140 tonnes of hydrochloric acid, 14 tonnes of fluorine compounds, and 370 tonnes of sulphur dioxide which may have been converted to 800 tonnes of sulphuric acid.
Research suggests that additional pollution-prevention systems fitted at Battersea may have worsened the air quality, reducing the output of soot at the cost of increased sulphur dioxide, though this is not certain. Additionally, there was pollution and smoke from vehicle exhaust—particularly from steam locomotives and diesel-fuelled buses, which had replaced the recently abandoned electric tram system – and from other industrial and commercial sources.”
“The Great Smog of 1952 was much more than a nuisance. It was lethal, particularly for the elderly, young children and those with respiratory problems. Heavy smokers were especially vulnerable because of their already-impaired lungs, and smoking was common at the time, especially among men.
It wasn’t until undertakers began to run out of coffins and florists out of bouquets that the deadly impact of the Great Smog was realized. Deaths from bronchitis and pneumonia increased more than sevenfold. The death rate in London’s East End increased ninefold.
Initial reports estimated that about 4,000 died prematurely in the immediate aftermath of the smog.
The detrimental effects lingered, however, and death rates remained well above normal into the summer of 1953. Many experts now estimate the Great Smog claimed at least 8,000 lives, and perhaps as many as 12,000.
The effects of the Big Smoke weren’t limited to people: Birds lost in the fog crashed into buildings. Eleven prize heifers brought to Earls Court for the famed Smithfield Show choked to death, and breeders fashioned improvised gas masks for their cattle by soaking grain sacks in whiskey.”
“During a cold snap on Dec. 5 [in 1953]…, sulphur particles mixed with fumes from burning coal and made the yellow fog smell like rotten eggs. Some Londoners reported being unable to see their feet, and transportation was canceled with the exception of the London Underground. Birds flew into buildings, and robberies increased as thieves were able to make an easy getaway.
The smog eventually lifted on Dec. 9 , after cold winds swept the fumes out to the North Sea.
The incident eventually led to the Clean Air Act of 1956, restricting the burning of coal in urban areas in the United Kingdom.
A team of scientists now believe they have solved the mystery of the exact cause and nature of the fog, through lab experiments and measuring the atmosphere in China, which is home to 16 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world.
Their work was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
'People have known that sulfate was a big contributor to the fog, and sulfuric acid particles were formed from sulfur dioxide released by coal burning for residential use and power plants, and other means,' lead author Renyi Zhang, a scientist at Texas A&M University, said in a statement.
'But how sulfur dioxide was turned into sulfuric acid was unclear. Our results showed that this process was facilitated by nitrogen dioxide, another co-product of coal burning, and occurred initially on natural fog.' ”
“The Great Smog of 1952 caused the United Kingdom to enact stricter laws about air pollution. Many cities around the world have tried to limit how much pollution is in the air. However, smog is still a problem in cities such as Mexico City, Beijing, and Los Angeles.”
“In a move to improve the air quality and reduce airborne pollutants, most London homes switched to natural gas and other low-emission fuels. In 1956 the implementation of the Clean Air Act (revised in 1968) forced industrial, residential, and commercial sectors to improve upon the way they generated power, move away from coal as a domestic heating source, and use cleaner-burning fuels and more fuel-efficient vehicles. The Act, however, took several years to come into full effect, during which time London continued to suffer periods of dense smog. In December 1962, an additional 750 people died from yet another great smog.”
“The horrifying environmental disaster, caused by the combination of a high-pressure front and light winds that trapped fumes over the city, led the British government to phase out coal furnaces, and in the years since, the city has built 80 monitoring stations in an effort to be more vigilant about air quality.
Even so, the health effects of the Great Smog still persist, according to a newly published study in the American Thoracic Society's American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
In the study, researchers from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, the University of California, San Diego and University of Massachusetts studied how London's Great Smog affected early childhood health and the long-term health consequences.
The scientists found that children exposed to the Great Smog in their first year of life were nearly 20 percent more likely to develop childhood asthma than those who weren't, and nearly 10 percent more likely to have asthma as adults. “
“ ‘[Texas A&M researcher Renyi Zhang stated],”People have known that sulfate was a big contributor to the [Great Fog], and sulfuric acid particles were formed from sulfur dioxide released by coal burning for residential use and power plants, and other means,’’ Zhang says.
‘But how sulfur dioxide was turned into sulfuric acid was unclear. Our results showed that this process was facilitated by nitrogen dioxide, another co-product of coal burning, and occurred initially on natural fog. Another key aspect in the conversion of sulfur dioxide to sulfate is that it produces acidic particles, which subsequently inhibits this process. Natural fog contained larger particles of several tens of micrometers in size, and the acid formed was sufficiently diluted. Evaporation of those fog particles then left smaller acidic haze particles that covered the city.’
The study shows that similar chemistry occurs frequently in China, which has battled air pollution for decades. Of the 20 most polluted cities in the world, China is home to 16 of them, and Beijing often exceeds by many times the acceptable air standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
‘The difference in China is that the haze starts from much smaller nanoparticles, and the sulfate formation process is only possible with ammonia to neutralize the particles,’ Zhang adds.
‘In China, sulfur dioxide is mainly emitted by power plants, nitrogen dioxide is from power plants and automobiles, and ammonia comes from fertilizer use and automobiles. Again, the right chemical processes have to interplay for the deadly haze to occur in China. Interestingly, while the London fog was highly acidic, contemporary Chinese haze is basically neutral.’
Zhang says China has been working diligently over the past decade to lessen its air pollution problems, but persistent poor air quality often requires people to wear breathing masks during much of the day. China’s explosive industrial and manufacturing growth and urbanization over the past 25 years have contributed to the problem.
‘A better understanding of the air chemistry holds the key for development of effective regulatory actions in China,’ he adds.
‘The government has pledged to do all it can to reduce emissions going forward, but it will take time,’ he notes. ‘We think we have helped solve the 1952 London fog mystery and also have given China some ideas of how to improve its air quality. Reduction in emissions for nitrogen oxides and ammonia is likely effective in disrupting this sulfate formation process.’ “
Past blog posts related to Chinese Air Pollution include:
03/30/2018 China Vertical Forest Update
03/03/2017 China's Vertical Forests
06/05/2016 Air Pollution in China
*This Blog contains several entries that would be helpful to your chemistry classroom. Check out the Topic List to help you to find past Blog entries.
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