- (Adapted from
Earth Day 1990: Lesson Plan & Home Survey - K-6, Standford
- GRADE LEVELS:
- SUBJECT AREAS:
science, social studies
Household hazardous waste.
To realize that chemicals and toxics are all around us and that
we can make a choice whether or not to use them.
A toxic is any substance that is capable of harming a person
if ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through any body surface. Toxic
substances vary widely in the types of harm they cause and the
conditions under which they become harmful. The effects of the
toxic substances vary widely, too. Acute reactions are sudden
ones such as vomiting or dizziness. Chronic reactions occur
over longer periods and include symptoms such as decline in mental
alertness, change in behavior, cancer, and mutations that can
harm unborn children of exposed parents. Because toxics can
cause both acute and chronic reactions, they are a broader category
than poisons, which produce acute reactions only. For this reason,
the words toxic and poison are not interchangeable.
- Nobody is "for" toxic chemicals
in the sense of wanting to endanger ourselves and others, and
yet many toxic substances seem to be a necessary part of our
lives and have come to be considered essential in our homes,
our workplaces, and our schools. This predicament of needing
substances that sometimes produce undesirable effects forces
people to make choices about what is acceptable to them. Different
people are willing to take different risks related to toxic chemicals
and have varying concerns about the effects of toxins on themselves
and people around them. Some people know that many of the products
they use are potentially toxic but consider the risk worthwhile.
Others try to avoid toxics and thus forego the benefits of certain
- Many people do not know that household
chemicals can be toxic. Most of the dangerous substances in the
home are found in cleaners, solvents, pesticides, and products
used for automotive care.
- NOTE: It is not always possible to
avoid the use of toxic substances (i.e. - if you have termites,
you can either move out or use a pesticide to remove them).
- In this activity, students survey themselves
and their families to find out attitudes and beliefs people hold
about toxics. Older students are also introduced to the term
toxic, risk, and benefit (a risk is a possible danger; a benefit
is an advantage).
- 1. Collect four or five familiar cleaning
products. Tape the lid on so that students cannot open the containers.
Prepare a chart on butcher paper titled "Toxics Survey Results"
that students can use to record the results of their surveys.
The chart should list all of the survey questions and allow space
for recording the responses.
- 2. Introduce the activity and the unit
by displaying the household products you have gathered. Ask students,
"What are these things? What are they used for? What do
we know about them? Is there anything dangerous about using them?
What don't we know about these things that might be important
to know?" In order to find out more about what we as a
class think about toxics, complete the Home
- 3. Hand out one Home Toxic Survey to
each student and explain that the survey is not a test, students
do not need to write their names on the survey; there are no
right or wrong answers. Give the student a few minutes to complete
- 4. Divide students into groups of four.
Have each group discuss the following questions using the survey:
- What are toxics
- Where do we find toxics?
- Who uses toxics? Why?
- Are we always aware of the presence
- 5. Have each group share their responses
to these questions with the class. Accept all responses; do not
provide answers at this point. This is a time for students to
begin thinking about toxics and for you to assess their initial
understanding and attitudes. Talk with students about the idea
that nobody is "for" toxics but most people think these
substances are a necessary part of their lives. Tell them some
people know many of the products they use are toxic yet consider
it beneficial to continue using them, while other people avoid
toxics by using an alternative or doing without certain products
- 6. Introduce the words risk and benefit.
Help students discuss the meaning of these words.
- 7. Tell students that people's knowledge
of toxic differs, as do their opinions, and that over the next
two days the students are going to learn more about toxics. They
will interview their family to find out what they know and think
- 8. Ask students to interview one of
the adults in their home.
- 9. Discussion questions:
- Are most people concerned or not concerned
- What does toxic mean?
- What ideas did most people in the survey
- What else have we learned?
- Was there anything that surprised you?
- What does opinion mean?
- What is the difference between fact
- What would you like to learn about
- What choices can we make that are more
beneficial to the environment and therefore to all of us?
Home Toxics Survey
- 1. What is your age? _____ Are you a male or female?
2. What do you think of when you hear
the word toxic?
- 3. Which of the following do you use?
Which of the following do you consider toxic? (Leave blank if
you don't use these products.)
| Laundry detergent
used to wash clothes.
| Cleanser used
in your house to clean sinks & bathtubs.
polish used to clean & shine furniture.
cleaner used in sink & bathtub drains.
cleaner used to clean windows & mirrors.
soda used in cooking.
| Air freshener
used to make the air smell fresh.
| Ant spray
used to kill ants in & around the house.
| Hair spray
some family members use to keep their hair in place.
- 4. When do you think it is okay to
use something that is toxic?
- 5. What room in your home do you think
contains the most toxics? ___________________
- 6. Which statement best describes your
- ____ There are no toxics in my home.
- ____ There are some toxics in my home.
- ____ I do not know if there are toxics
in my home.
- 7. Would you want to be told if something
you are about to buy might be toxic?
- ____ Yes
- ____ No
- ____ Sometimes
- 8. Do you think that people who work
where there are toxics should be told this when they are hired?
- ____ Yes
- ____ Sometimes
- 9. Do you think individuals should
decide whether to buy and use toxics, or do you think the government
should make it illegal to sell toxics?
- ____ Individual should decide.
____ Government should make it illegal.
- ____ I don't know.
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Substitutions for Household Toxics
- (Source: Edited from A
Guide to the Safe Use and Disposal of Hazardous Household Products,
- Metropolitan Area Planning
| Air Freshener
|| Set vinegar out in
an open dish.
| Drain Cleaner
|| Pour boiling water
down the drain, or use a plunger or a metal snake.
| Furniture Polish
|| 1 tsp. lemon oil in 1
pint mineral oil, or rub crushed raw nuts on the wood for an
| Houseplant Insecticides
|| Wash leaves with
soapy water, then rinse.
|| Put clothes in cedar
chests, or place cedar chips around clothes.
| Oven Cleaner
|| Salt, baking soda,
water (and elbow grease!).
| Roach Spray
|| Chopped bay leaves
& cucumber skins, or boric acid (sold in powdered form),
or 1 part borax &1 part brown sugar set out in dishes (these
are not as effective, & the latter two may be hazardous to
animals & children).
| Silver Cleaner
|| Soak silver in 1
qt. warm water containing 1 tsp. baking soda, 1 tsp. salt, &
a piece of aluminum foil.
| Toilet-Bowl Cleaner
|| 1/2 cup bleach.
| Window Cleaner
|| 2 tbsp. vinegar in
1 qt. water.
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