Bagging Pollution

FIELD: Earth Science DURATION: 1.5 hrs
OBJECTIVE: Students will measure the amount of pollutants emitted by cars and calculate the total pollution near their school.
METHOD: Students measure the weight of exhaust emissions and calculate the total pollution from all cars on the road.
KEY VOCABULARY: Pollution, exhaust. GROUP SIZE: Any

Exhaust ContentBACKGROUND:

Air pollution comes in many forms. One of the most obvious forms is from the exhaust pipe of automobiles. Car exhaust has a variety of chemicals in it. The diagram is a display of the chemicals in a typical exhaust and their relative amounts.

Some of the deadliest chemicals to humans found in car exhaust are carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and ozone-producing chemicals like hydrocarbons.

In this experiment you directly measure total car exhaust weight and calculate long term amounts over time.

MATERIALS (per group):

Large clear garbage bag
Rubber bands
Athletic sock
Balance scale


1. Weigh empty garbage bag on the balance.
2. Wrap sock around tailpipe of car. Wrap open end of garbage bag around sock, securing with rubber band.
3. Start car. Watch as pollutants fill clear bag.
4. Time how long it takes to fill bag.
5. Weigh the pollutant-filled bag.
6. Count how many cars pass on the road in one minute.
7. Subtract the empty garbage bag weight from the new weight. Divide this by the time (in seconds) it took to fill. This is the rate of pollution in weight per second.
8. Divide this by 60 to get the rate in minutes.
9. Multiply this by the number of cars counted in 1 minute to get the total weight of pollutants created per minute.
10. Multiply by 60 to get the rate in hours.


1. RIDDLES: How much pollution is released into the air near your school during the school day?