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Hazardous Materials Investigation: The Barrel Mystery (Developed by SEPUP)

module #HM-2

What happens when unidentified, hazardous waste is left abandoned?

In this module, students investigate a barrel of simulated hazardous waste as they learn to physically separate, test, and identify substances in the mixture. They investigate different types of chemical hazards and describe hazardous substances found in the home. Students evaluate the trade-offs involved in transporting hazardous materials as they are asked to create a plan for transporting large amounts of hazardous waste from one area to another.

The embedded assessment system provides a focus on student ability to design and conduct investigations.

This modules includes a Teacher's Guide
Module requires 16 SEPUP trays (not included)

Accommodates five classes, each with 8 groups of four students


This module has 8 activities which will require 10 to 16 ~50-minute class periods to complete.

1. Exploring Hazardous Materials

Students begin to learn about hazardous materials as they are introduced to a scenario involving an abandoned barrel of hazardous waste. They watch a video segment that shows how a HAZMAT team responds to potentially hazardous waste. They then make observations of simulated hazardous waste. Students extend the investigation by identifying hazardous materials at home.

2. Identifying Types of Hazards

Different substances can pose different types of hazards. After being introduced to different hazard categories, students use chemical tests to determine the types of hazards posed by three unidentified liquids. They observe flammability tests of each liquid and conduct tests to determine whether each liquid is corrosive, reactive, or toxic.

3. Separating a Mixture

This activity introduces students to the idea that the simulated hazardous waste is a mixture. Before the substances in a mixture can be tested and identified, they must first be separated. Students construct a procedure to separate the different substances that compose the simulated hazardous waste. Students develop a three-part plan to (1) separate the liquid and solid substances, (2) separate the different solids, and (3) separate the different liquids.

4. Identifying Solids

Students perform their procedures to separate the solid and liquid parts of the simulated hazardous waste mixture. They then separate out the different solids. Rather than conduct tests to determine the hazardous nature of the solid substances, they conduct tests to help identify each solid. Identifying solids is another way to gather information about potential hazards.

5. Identifying Liquids

Students perform their procedures to separate the different liquids from the simulated hazardous waste. They test each liquid for corrosiveness, reactivity, and toxicity, and observe flammability tests. They then conduct four additional tests on properties of the liquids to help identify them.

6. Labeling Hazardous Materials

Students are introduced to the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) system for labeling hazardous materials. The students decide which DOT placards to use to label the barrel containing the simulated hazardous waste. They extend the activity by collecting data on the transportation of hazardous materials through their community.

7. Transporting Hazardous Materials

Now that students know the hazards that the simulated waste poses, they must think about transporting the material safely. Students read about a highway accident involving hazardous materials and examine hazardous materials transportation data from the federal government. Students select a mode of transportation by analyzing the data and creating a graph to support their recommendation.

8. Evaluating Evidence

Students are asked to determine a final transportation route for shipping the barrels of simulated hazardous waste. Students use the DOT data from Activity 7, “Transporting Hazardous Materials,” to help them evaluate the different transportation options. In choosing a route, they also consider several other factors in addition to safety. Students are asked to support their recommendation with evidence and identify the trade-offs of their decision.

  • Hazardous materials are substances that pose a danger to the health and safety of living organisms. Hazardous materials are commonly found in homes.
  • A mixture of substances often can be separated into the original substances on the basis of one or more characteristic properties, such as density and solubility.
  • Pure substances are identified by performing qualitative tests to determine their chemical and physical properties.
  • Gathering relevant evidence is essential for thoughtful inquiry and good decision making.
  • Making decisions about complex issues often involves trade-offs and evaluating issues requires an analysis of both risks (costs) and benefits.

Content List in Hazardous Materials Investigation: The Barrel Mystery (Developed by SEPUP) is as follows:

Quantity Description
1 Teacher’s Guide with reproducible masters for Student Sheets
1 Videotape, Hazardous Materials/Waste Disposal
240 Aluminum washers
240 Iron washers
50 9 oz plastic cups
40 Cup lids for 9 oz cups
40 Effervescent tablets
16 Stir sticks
16 30 mL graduated cups
16 195 mL graduated cups
16 Clear plastic vials with lids
16 Pairs of forceps
16 Droppers,
16 Plastic spoons
8 LAB-AIDS® Separation funnel
8 Drop control bottles of Liquid A solution, 3% hydrogen peroxide
8 Drop control bottles of Liquid B solution, 50,000 ppm copper chloride
8 Drop control bottles of Liquid C solution, 0.1M hydrochloric acid
8 Drop control bottles of Ammonia solution, 5%
8 Drop control bottles of Ethanol (Denatured)
8 Drop control bottles of "Water", empty
8 Drop control bottles of Methanol
8 Drop control bottles of Potassium Thiocyanate solution, 0.1M
8 pH color charts
8 Round magnets
8 metal screens
2 Universal Indicator paper, vial/100
2 Potassium Iodide paper strips, vial/120
2 480 ml bottle of Mineral Oil,
2 12" pieces of Copper Wire
1 480 ml bottle of Iron (III) Nitrate solution, 40,000 ppm (supplied empty with crystals inside)
1 500 mL barrel - "mini 55 gallon drum"
1 Plastic scoop
1 vial of black and beige HDPE Squares
1 60 mL dispensing bottle of Ethanol
1 MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) set
Number of students
Number of groups
Maximum 8 groups per period

This module has 8 activities which will require 10 to 16 ~50-minute class periods to complete. SEPUP modules employ the 4-2-1 model: each student is part of a team of 2 and each team partners with another team to form a group of 4 that shares some equipment.

Title Item # Price Quantity
Hazardous Materials Investigation: The Barrel Mystery (Developed by SEPUP) HM-2 $471.25
SEPUP Tray Package of 16 SP-1CT $101.45
Hazardous Materials Investigation: The Barrel Mystery TG HM-2PM $75.00