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Chocolate oil spill: big tankers don't cause all oil spills--many smaller accidents occur during recreational boating. But regardless of size, a leak still impacts local fish and wildlife. What's the best way to clean up an oily mishap? Find out with this activity. (Hands-On Activity).

YOU NEED: large rectangular glass baking dish (or equivalent) * tablespoon * measuring cup * medium mixing bowl * spoon or stir stick * tap water * 2- to 3-inch squares of absorbent materials (cotton balls, styrofoam, paper towels, sponge, extra fine steel wool) * pair of weezers * stopwatch/clock * 8 tablespoons cocoa powder * 12 tablespoons vegetable oil * 1/4 cup dish soap


1. Fill the baking dish halfway with water.

2. In the mixing bowl, thoroughly stir together the cocoa powder and vegetable oil. This is your crude oil.

3. From a height of 1 cm above the water's surface, very slowly pour the simulated crude oil into one spot in the water.

4. Observe. What happens to the oil when it hits the water? How might environmental conditions of the open ocean affect this?

5. Allow the mixture to stand for five minutes. Observe the changes.

6. Test absorbent materials for their ability to clean up oil spills: Carefully place a sample of one material on the surface of the oil-covered water. Measure and record the length of time it takes for the material to become saturated with liquid.

Carefully pluck the saturated square from the water using the tweezers. Repeat for each material.

7. Now add a single drop of the dispersant (dish soap) to the center of the oil spill. Observe. Remember to look through the side of the glass dish.

CONCLUSIONS: Which material seems to clear the water of the most oil? Create a line graph of your results. Which material absorbs oil the fastest? What are some problems and benefits of using chemical dispersants compared to absorbent materials? What do you think is the best method to clean up an oil spill? Research to see if your conclusion matches that of experts.

TAKE IT FURTHER: Chemical dispersants are often used to clean large oil spills, but the Clean Water Act prohibits their use in U.S. waters without Coast Guard permission. Why?
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Publication:Science World
Date:Apr 18, 2003
Previous Article:Be earth wise!
Next Article:Recycling power! Sure, recycling saves landfill space--but it also saves energy. (Critical-Thinking And Math Skills).

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