Objective: Students will be able to calculate the damage done to an ecosystem by
improper disposal of used motor oil.
Materials: paper and pencils, student worksheet
Background: Everyone gets upset when large oil spills occur and contaminate
beaches and harbors. We are horrified and made angry by pictures of oil-soaked
aquatic birds and mammals, however, not all oil spills are publicized disasters.
Unnoticed spills occur more frequently and are more dangerous to human health and
Did you know that over 40% of oil pollution comes from people who change their own
motor oil? Millions of gallons of used motor oil are dumped in landfills, storm drains, and
on the ground each year. This oil contains harmful pollutants, such as lead and zinc, and
is considered hazardous waste. It makes its way to streams, lakes, rivers, and
groundwater, where it causes severe damage to the ecosystem. Used motor oil is a
major contributor to the urban runoff problem.
Conduct a class discussion of marine oil spills versus "land oil spills (disposal of used
After the discussion, have students complete the student worksheet.
Oil and the contaminants it contains cause real problems in the food web of any
ecosystem. Bioaccumulation is one of these problems. Research the bioaccumulation
of oil and its contaminants in the food web of a large lake. Make a poster or mural to
illustrate your findings.
Write a skit or play, complete with a song or two, about the benefits of recycling used
Investigate disposal methods of used oil from school buses in your school or school
district. Contact the proper officials and discuss the benefits of recycling the oil.
Bioaccumulation: The buildup of a material in the body of an organism
Bioremediation: The use of a living organism to help remedy a problem in an ecosystem
Crude Oil: Unrefined petroleum
Ecosystem: A group of interacting species within a physical environment
Hazardous Waste: Wastes that are dangerous to human health and/or the environment
Pollutants: An impurity (contaminant) that causes an undesirable change in the physical,
chemical or biological characteristics of the air, water, or land that may be harmful to or
affect the health, survival or activities of humans or other living organisms
Runoff: Water (originating as precipitation) that flows across surfaces rather than
soaking in; eventually enters a water body; may pick up and carry a variety of pollutants
Science, Math, Reading
SD Standards for 4th grade:
4.A.1.3; 4.A.3.1; 4.N.3.1
4.R.1.1; 4.R.1.2; 4.R.5.1; 4.R.5.2
Organizing, Estimating, Calculating,
Interpreting (identifying cause and
Prior Preparation: Students should
understand that water is shared by
everyone, as well as the pollutants
carried within the watershed. (Students
can find out where used motor oil can
be recycled in your community by
contacting a local government agency,
such as the Department of
Environmental Quality). Have various
references on oil in the environment
available for student research. Some
very good sources of information are:
US EPA, the Department of
Environmental Quality, the Department
of Natural Resources, and the
Department of Wildlife and Fisheries
or a local nature center.
ecosystem, hazardous waste,
pollutants, runoff, bioaccumulation,
crude oil, bioremediation