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Chemistry 215

CHEM 215

Catalog Entry

CHEM 215. Environmental Chemistry
Three hours lecture (3).

Prerequisite: CHEM 102 or 103

The chemical nature of major environmental problems, including their sources and possible solutions, are considered. Major topics will be acid deposition, global warming, ozone depletion, air pollution, photochemical smog, water pollution, solid waste disposal, recycling, and alternatives to fossil fuels.


Detailed Description of Content of Course

1. The Environmental Protection Agency

a. History
b. Legislation
c. The Future

2. Energy Consumption and Fossil Fuels

a. Origin of Fossil Fuels
b. Human Energy Consumption
c. Exponential Growth
d. Comparison of Fuels
e. Petroleum Refinery Processes
f. Coal Gasification
g. Tar Sands, Oil Shale, Gas Hydrates
h. Heat Engine Efficiencies

3. Air Pollution

a. Photochemical Smog
b. Particulates
c. Toxic Organics
d. Emission Controls; Catalytic Converters
e. Gasoline and its Formulations

4. Acid Deposition

a. pH of Unpolluted Rain
b. Sources, Natural and Anthropogenic
c. Environmental Effects
d. Neutralization and Watershed Buffering
e. Liming and Scrubbing

5. Global Warming

a. Radiation Balance
b. Greenhouse Gases
c. Mechanism of Infrared Energy Absorption
d. Climate Modeling

6. Recycling

a. Plastics
b. Aluminum
c. Other Recyclables
d. Plastic Bags versus Paper Bags
e. Plastic Cups versus Paper Cups
f. Composting
g. Landfills

7. Nuclear Energy

a. Power Reactors
b. Breeder Reactors
c. Safety
d. Waste Disposal
e. Fusion Reactors

8. Solar Energy

a. Passive Solar
b. Photovoltaic Cells
c. The Hydrogen Economy
d. Fuel Cells

9. Other Renewable Energy Sources

a. Biomass
b. Hydro
c. Wind
d. Ocean
e. Geothermal

10. Transportation

a Electric Vehicles
b. Ceramic Engines
c. Structural Materials

11. Ozone Depletion

a. Ultraviolet Protection by Ozone
b. Catalytic Destruction of Ozone
c. Chlorofluorocarbons and Substitutes
d. Montreal Protocol

12. Water Pollution

a. Municipal Waste
b. Eutrophication
c. Pesticides
d. Thermal Pollution
e. Dioxin and Polychlorinated Biphenyls
f. Heavy Metals
g. Case Study: Onondaga Lake, Syracuse, New York


Detailed Description of Conduct of Course

The course will be primarily lecture in format. The course does not have a laboratory component, but there will be classroom demonstrations and field trips to a landfill, a wastewater treatment facility, and possibly to local industries. Since there is a certain amount of controversy surrounding many environmental topics, there should be more classroom discussion than in most other chemistry courses. Although there will be some mathematical problem solving, the course will not be as problem-intensive as general chemistry. Most of the student's time will be used in reading the textbook and articles selected from newspapers and periodicals. A considerable amount of time will be devoted to the discussion of articles within a day or two of their appearance in a newspaper or a widely-read non-scientific publication such as Time. A typical test will involve a few mathematical problems, some short-answer questions, and questions which require the discussion of a particular environmental issue. The only audio-visual materials utilized will be the overhead projector and TV/VCR. One paper dealing with an environmental disaster will be required.

A sample of readings outside of the textbook:

  • "Saltville: The Town that Wouldn't Die", articles in the July 14, 15, 16, and 17 Roanoke Times by Staff Writer Cathryn McCue and editorial in the July 20 Roanoke Times by Dr. Robert C. Whisonant, Professor of Geology at Radford University.
  • "EPA at 25", by Richard N. L. Andrews and Terry Davies, Environmental Science & Technology, Volume 29, No. 11, pp. 504A-514A (1995).
  • "Superfund Cannot be Applied Retroactively, Says District Court", Chemical and Engineering News, p. 23, May 27, 1996.
  • "The Rape of Siberia", by Eugene Linden, Time, pp. 42-53, September 4, 1995. "DuPont Faces Recent Benlate Losses on Health and Plant Damage Claims", by Elisabeth Kirschner, Chemical and Engineering News, pp. 20-23, July 29, 1996.
  • "The Estrogen Dilemma", by Claudia Wallis, Time, pp. 46-53, June 26, 1995. "PVC Plastics and Dioxin", National Wildlife Federation, 1995. (This is a political document.)
  • "Composting - from Backyards to Big-Time", by Janet Marinelli, Garbage, pp. 44- 51, July/August, 1990.
  • "Energy Department has Made Progress Cleaning Up Nuclear Weapons Plants", by Bette Hileman, Chemical and Engineering News, pp. 14-20, July 22, 1996.
  • "Botanical Plants Prove Useful in Cleaning Up Industrial Sites", by Elisabeth M. Kirschner, Chemical and Engineering News, pp. 22-24, December 11, 1995.
  • "Phytoextraction: The Use of Plants to Remove Heavy Metals from Soils", by Kumar, Dushenkov, Motto, and Raskin, Environmental Science & Technology, Volume 29, No. 5, pp. 1232-1238 (1995).
  • "Rhizofiltration: The Use of Plants To Remove Heavy Metals from Aqueous Streams", by Dushenkov, Kumar, Motto, and Raskin, Environmental Science & Technology, Volume 29, No. 5, pp. 1239-1245 (1995).
  • "Our Polluted Runoff", by John G. Mitchell, National Geographic, Volume 189, No. 2, pp. 106-125, February, 1996.
  • "Choose Appropriate Wastewater Treatment Technologies", by Dannelle H. Belhateche, Chemical Engineering Progress, Volume 91, No. 8, pp. 32-51, August, 1995.
  • "Zero-Valent Metals Provide Possible Solution to Groundwater Problems", by Elizabeth K. Wilson, Chemical and Engineering News, pp. 19-22, July 3, 1995.
  • "Zero-Valent Iron-Promoted Dechlorination of Polychlorinated Biphenyls", by Chuang, Larson, and Wessman, Environmental Science & Technology, Volume 29, No. 9, pp. 2460-2463 (1995).
  • "Was Plague of Athens Really Ebola Virus?", by Anthony Ramirez (New York Times), Roanoke Times, August 25, 1996.

A sample of topics for the paper:

  • The Banning of DDT (1972)
  • Love Canal (Niagara Falls, New York) (1978)
  • Tellico Dam (Tennessee) and the Snail Darter (1979)
  • Times Beach, Missouri (1982)
  • The EPA Scandal of 1983
  • Bhopal, India, and Union Carbide (1984)
  • Three Mile Island (1979) and Chernobyl (1986)
  • Exxon Valdez (1989)
  • Kim-Stan Landfill, Clifton Forge, Virginia (1990's)
  • Mercury and Cadmium Poisoning (Minimata and Itai-Itai Diseases)
  • Biological Effects of Low Energy Electromagnetic Radiation


Goals and Objectives of the Course

Having successfully completed this course, the student will be able to:

  • utilize the principles learned in general chemistry to understand major environmental problems and to project solutions to these problems;
  • converse about environmental issues using the terminology common to the field;
  • engage in more advanced studies of environmental problems;

appreciate the complexity of environmental problems and recognize some of the technological, economic, and political obstacles that must be overcome before they can be solved.


Assessment Measures

Assessment will be based upon weekly quizzes, three or four tests, the paper, and classroom participation.


Other Course Information

  • The proposed textbook is: Chemistry of the Environment, by Thomas, G. Spiro and William M. Stigliani, Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey (April, 1996).
  • From the Preface of the textbook:

"This book is about environmental issues and the chemistry behind them. It is not a methods book, nor is it a catalog of pollutants and remediation options. It aims to deepen knowledge of chemistry and of the environment and to show the power of chemistry as a tool to help us comprehend the changing world around us."

  • A sample of outside readings and possible topics for papers appear in Item 1.c. of this proposal.


Review and Approval

September 2001 Reviewed by Walter S. Jaronski, Chair