TNRCC Home Page Office of Air Quality

Air Quality Planning & Assessment Division

February 24, 1997

Particulate Matter: How Dirty is the Air We Breathe?


To make a simple tester that we can use to collect and observe the pollution in our air.

Grade Level:

4th grade

Essential Elements:

Environmental Essential Elements Across the Curriculum - 75.25 (2) Acquire data through the senses. The student shall be given opportunities to (B) observe properties and patterns of objects, organisms, and events in the environment.


Students will collect and study pollution from the air.


Tell the students, "As we look outside, we see a clear blue sky. Where is the pollution? We are going to make a simple tester for air pollution so we can see the pollution."



The atmosphere is almost completely made up of invisible gaseous substances. Most major air pollutants are also invisible, although large amounts of them concentrated in areas such as cities can be see as smog. One often visible air pollutant is particulate matter, especially when the surfaces of buildings and other structures have been exposed to it for long periods of time or when it is present in large amounts. Particulate matter is made up of tiny particles of solid matter and/or droplets of liquid. Natural sources include volcanic ash, pollen, and dust blown about by the wind. Coal and oil burned by power plants and industries and diesel fuel burned by many vehicles are the chief sources of manmade particulate pollutants, but not all important sources are large scale. The use of wood in fireplaces and wood burning stoves also produces rather significant amounts of particulate matter in localized areas, although the total amounts are much smaller than those from vehicles, power plants, and industries.


  1. Coat the plastic square with a thin, even coat of petroleum jelly. With masking tape, fasten the square, jelly side up, to the wooden block.
  2. Place the block outdoors on a post, fence, wall, window sill. Leave it for 24 hours. Remove the plastic square from the block. Lay it on white paper.
  3. Let the students examine the pollution which was collected on the petroleum jelly
  4. Let the groups record the findings of their tester.
  5. Have groups share their findings with the other groups. Did your collect any dirt particles? How does your square compare to those of the other groups? In what places does the air seem to be the dirtiest?

We have seen dirt where we saw nothing. We must have air to live. We must do everything we can to clean the air we have and keep our future air clean.



Holt Science 6th. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston Publishers, New York. p. 257.


Alica L. Smith and Stacy Butler, Stephen F. Austin University Nacogdoches TES Course, 1994

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