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Date: July 29, 2008
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THE ARTICLE

Toxic chemicals found in household products

New research has found that many common household products contain harmful chemicals. The University of Washington study analyzed a range of six top-selling fabric softeners, detergents and air fresheners. Researchers discovered at least one chemical in the products that are describes as toxic or hazardous under US laws. Professor Anne Steinemann said: "I was surprised by both the number and the potential toxicity of the chemicals that were found." She added: "I didn't find a brand that didn't emit at least one toxic chemical." She explained that the chemicals included acetone, which is an active ingredient in paint thinner and nail-polish remover. She also outlined a number of other hazardous chemicals.


 
 

Test results showed 58 different volatile chemicals above the recommended safety level. Researchers found an air freshener that contained more than 20 different harmful compounds, of which, seven are regulated as being toxic. Steinemann’s advice for consumers was: "Be careful if you buy products with fragrance, because you really don't know what's in them….I'd like to see better labeling. In the meantime, I'd recommend that instead of air fresheners people use ventilation, and with laundry products, choose fragrance-free versions." Her conclusions angered manufacturers, who said the research “really lacks a real-world risk perspective". A spokesman said the products were safe and did not cause ill health.


 
 

WARM-UPS

1. FRAGRANCES: Walk around the class and talk to other students about fragrances. Change partners often. After you finish, sit with your partner(s) and share your findings.

2. CHAT: In pairs / groups, decide which of these topics or words from the article are most interesting and which are most boring.

 

research / household products / air fresheners / toxic chemicals / nail-polish remover / safety levels / advice for consumers / fragrances / laundry products / risk / ill health

Have a chat about the topics you liked. Change topics and partners frequently.

3. HOUSEHOLD DANGERS: Do you ever worry whether the things around you are dangerous? With your partner(s), write down the possible dangers of these things. Change partners and share what you talked about.

Things

Dangers

Air fresheners

 

Detergents

 

Microwave oven

 

Television

 

Shampoo

 

Toothpaste

 

Electricity

 

Water

 

4. FRAGRANCES: Rate the smells below: 10 = “Heavenly” 1 = “Yuck. Yuck. And double yuck”. Discuss your ratings and reasons with your partner(s).

_____  air fresheners

_____  detergents

_____  perfume

_____  coffee

_____  petrol

_____  body odour (B.O.)

_____  garlic

_____  the countryside

5. HEADLINE PREDICTION: With your partner(s), use the words in the “Chat” activity above to predict what the news article will be about. Once you have your story, change partners and share them. Who was closest to the real story?

6. CHEMICALS: Spend one minute writing down all of the different words you associate with the word ‘chemicals’. Share your words with your partner(s) and talk about them. Together, put the words into different categories.


 
 

BEFORE READING / LISTENING

1. TRUE / FALSE: Look at the article’s headline and guess whether these sentences are true (T) or false (F):

a.

A study found all household products contain dangerous chemicals.

T / F

b.

Researchers tested six products to see find out their levels of toxicity.

T / F

c.

A professor was not in the least surprised at finding toxic chemicals.

T / F

d.

The same chemical is found in nail-polish remover and air fresheners.

T / F

e.

Researchers found 58 chemicals that exceeded suggested safety limits.

T / F

f.

A researcher urged caution when buying things like air freshener.

T / F

g.

Air freshener and detergent manufacturers welcomed the research.

T / F

h.

An industry spokesman said his products did not make people sick.

T / F

2. SYNONYM MATCH: Match the following synonyms from the article:

1.

common

a.

unstable

2

products

b.

dangerous

3.

toxic

c.

scent

4.

hazardous

d.

goods

5.

emit

e.

everyday

6.

volatile

f.

mixtures

7.

recommended

g.

poisonous

8.

compounds

h.

view

9.

fragrance

i.

release

10.

perspective

j.

suggested

3. PHRASE MATCH: Match the following phrases from the article (sometimes more than one combination is possible):

1.

analyzed a range of six top-

a.

under US laws

2

described as toxic or hazardous

b.

remover

3.

emit at least one

c.

angered manufacturers

4.

nail-polish

d.

free versions

5.

hazardous

e.

did not cause ill health

6.

above the recommended

f.

toxic chemical

7.

choose fragrance-

g.

perspective

8.

Her conclusions

h.

chemicals

9.

lacks a real-world risk

i.

selling fabric softeners

10.

the products were safe and

j.

safety level

WHILE READING / LISTENING

GAP FILL: Put the words into the gaps in the text.

New research has found that many __________ household products contain harmful chemicals. The University of Washington study analyzed a __________ of six top-selling fabric softeners, detergents and air fresheners. Researchers discovered at __________ one chemical in the products that are described as toxic or hazardous __________ US laws. Professor Anne Steinemann said: "I was surprised by both the number and the __________ toxicity of the chemicals that were found." She added: "I didn't find a brand that didn't __________ at least one toxic chemical." She explained that the chemicals included acetone, which is an __________ ingredient in paint thinner and nail-polish remover. She also outlined a __________ of other hazardous chemicals.

 

active
least
potential
common
number
range
emit
under

Test results showed 58 __________ volatile chemicals above the recommended safety __________. Researchers found an air freshener that contained more than 20 different harmful compounds, of which, seven are __________ as being toxic. Steinemann’s advice for consumers was: "Be careful if you buy products with __________, because you really don't know what's in them….I'd like to see better __________. In the meantime, I'd recommend that instead of air fresheners people use ventilation, and with __________ products, choose fragrance-free __________." Her conclusions angered manufacturers, who said the research “really lacks a real-world __________ perspective". A spokesman said the products were safe and did not cause ill health.

 

regulated
 
risk
different
fragrance
laundry
level
labeling
versions

LISTENING:  Listen and fill in the spaces.

New research has _________________ common household products contain harmful chemicals. The University of Washington study _________________ of six top-selling fabric softeners, detergents and air fresheners. Researchers discovered _____________ chemical in the products that are described as toxic or hazardous under US laws. Professor Anne Steinemann said: "I was _________________ the number and the potential toxicity of the chemicals that were found." She added: "I didn't find a brand that _________________ least one toxic chemical." She explained that the chemicals included acetone, which is an _________________ in paint thinner and nail-polish remover. She also outlined a number of other hazardous chemicals.

Test results showed 58 different _________________ above the recommended _________________. Researchers found an air freshener that contained more than 20 different harmful compounds, of which, seven are regulated _________________. Steinemann’s advice for consumers was: "Be careful if you buy products with fragrance, because you really don't know what's in them….I'd like to see _________________. In the meantime, I'd recommend that instead of air fresheners people use ventilation, and with laundry products, choose _________________ versions." Her conclusions angered manufacturers, who said the research “really lacks a real-world _________________ ". A spokesman said the products were safe and did not cause ill health.


 
 

AFTER READING / LISTENING

1. WORD SEARCH: Look in your dictionaries / computer to find collocates, other meanings, information, synonyms … for the words ‘toxic’ and ‘chemical’.

toxic

chemical

 

 

 

  • Share your findings with your partners.
  • Make questions using the words you found.
  • Ask your partner / group your questions.

2. ARTICLE QUESTIONS: Look back at the article and write down some questions you would like to ask the class about the text.

  • Share your questions with other classmates / groups.
  • Ask your partner / group your questions.

3. GAP FILL: In pairs / groups, compare your answers to this exercise. Check your answers. Talk about the words from the activity. Were they new, interesting, worth learning…?

4. VOCABULARY: Circle any words you do not understand. In groups, pool unknown words and use dictionaries to find their meanings.

5. TEST EACH OTHER: Look at the words below. With your partner, try to recall how they were used in the text:

  • common
  • range
  • described
  • potential
  • emit
  • active
  • level
  • seven
  • careful
  • labeling
  • versions
  • risk

STUDENT FRAGRANCES SURVEY

Write five GOOD questions about fragrances in the table. Do this in pairs. Each student must write the questions on his / her own paper.

When you have finished, interview other students. Write down their answers.

STUDENT 1

_____________

STUDENT 2

_____________

STUDENT 3

_____________

Q.1.

Q.2.

Q.3.

Q.4.

Q.5.

  • Now return to your original partner and share and talk about what you found out. Change partners often.
  • Make mini-presentations to other groups on your findings.

HOUSEHOLD PRODUCTS DISCUSSION

STUDENT A’s QUESTIONS (Do not show these to student B)

a)

What did you think when you read the headline?

b)

What springs to mind when you hear the word ‘air freshener’?

c)

Do you think the chemicals in air fresheners and laundry products are totally safe?

d)

Do you like air fresheners?

e)

Do you ever think about the chemicals in things like soap and detergent?

f)

Should the manufacturers of the six products be punished?

g)

Has a household product ever made you ill?

h)

Will this article make you think twice about buying household products?

i)

Do you think there should be tighter controls on manufacturers?

j)

Is this research valid if it only tested six products?

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------

STUDENT B’s QUESTIONS (Do not show these to student A)

a)

Did you like reading this article?

b)

What would you do if you saw a toxic chemical listed on the ingredients of something you bought?

c)

Are air fresheners necessary?

d)

Would better labeling on detergents help consumers who have little knowledge of chemicals?

e)

Do you think manufacturers are right to be angry?

f)

What is a “real-world risk perspective”?

g)

How dangerous do you think your household products are?

h)

Who do you trust more, the professor or the industry spokesman?

i)

What questions would you like to ask Professor Anne Steinemann?

j)

What questions would you like to ask the industry spokesman?

LANGUAGE

New research has found that (1) ____ common household products contain harmful chemicals. The University of Washington study analyzed a range (2) ____  six top-selling fabric softeners, detergents and air fresheners. Researchers discovered at (3) ____ one chemical in the products that are described as toxic or hazardous under US laws. Professor Anne Steinemann said: "I was surprised by (4) ____ the number and the potential toxicity of the chemicals that were found." She added: "I didn't find a brand that didn't (5) ____ at least one toxic chemical." She explained that the chemicals included acetone, which is an active ingredient in paint thinner and nail-polish remover. She also outlined a (6) ____ of other hazardous chemicals.

Test results showed 58 different volatile chemicals (7) ____ the recommended safety level. Researchers found an air freshener that contained more than 20 different (8) ____ compounds, of which, seven are regulated as being toxic. Steinemann’s (9) ____ for consumers was: "Be careful if you buy products with fragrance, because you really don't know what's in them….I'd like to see better labeling. In the (10) ____, I'd recommend that instead of air fresheners people use ventilation, and with laundry products, choose fragrance-free versions." Her conclusions (11) ____ manufacturers, who said the research “really lacks a real-world risk perspective". A spokesman said the products were safe and did not cause (12) ____ health.

Put the correct words from the table below in the above article.

1.

(a)

lots

(b)

much

(c)

a lot

(d)

many

2.

(a)

of

(b)

with

(c)

by

(d)

for

3.

(a)

last

(b)

least

(c)

less

(d)

lost

4.

(a)

for

(b)

of

(c)

both

(d)

some

5.

(a)

commit

(b)

omit

(c)

emit

(d)

remit

6.

(a)

numeral

(b)

number

(c)

numerous

(d)

numerical

7.

(a)

high

(b)

on top of

(c)

overhead

(d)

above

8.

(a)

harmful

(b)

harmless

(c)

harm

(d)

harms

9.

(a)

advising

(b)

advice

(c)

advisor

(d)

advise

10.

(a)

timesaver

(b)

time lag

(c)

lunch time

(d)

meantime

11.

(a)

angering

(b)

anger

(c)

angered

(d)

angrily

12.

(a)

ill

(b)

illness

(c)

ill will

(d)

ill-gotten

WRITING: 

Write about fragrances for 10 minutes. Correct your partner’s paper.

_____________________________________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________

HOMEWORK

1. VOCABULARY EXTENSION: Choose several of the words from the text. Use a dictionary or Google’s search field (or another search engine) to build up more associations / collocations of each word.

2. INTERNET: Search the Internet and find out more about chemicals in household products in your country. Share what you discover with your partner(s) in the next lesson.

3. MY CHEMICALS: Look at the label of some of your household products. Make a poster about the chemicals in them. Show your work to your classmates in the next lesson. Did you all have similar things?

4. TOXIC AIR: Write a magazine article about how air fresheners might damage your health. Include imaginary interviews with someone who became ill after breathing in air freshener fragrances, and the CEO of an air freshener company.

Read what you wrote to your classmates in the next lesson. Write down any new words and expressions you hear from your partner(s).

5. LETTER: Write a letter to Professor Anne Steinemann. Ask her three questions about her research. Ask her for three pieces of advice on your household products. Read your letter to your partner(s) in your next lesson. Your partner(s) will answer your questions.

ANSWERS

TRUE / FALSE:

a. F

b. T

c. F

d. T

e. T

f. T

g. F

h. T

SYNONYM MATCH:

1.

common

a.

everyday

2

products

b.

goods

3.

toxic

c.

poisonous

4.

hazardous

d.

dangerous

5.

emit

e.

release

6.

volatile

f.

unstable

7.

recommended

g.

suggested

8.

compounds

h.

mixtures

9.

fragrance

i.

scent

10.

perspective

j.

view

PHRASE MATCH:

1.

analyzed a range of six top-

a.

selling fabric softeners

2

described as toxic or hazardous

b.

under US laws

3.

emit at least one

c.

toxic chemical

4.

nail-polish

d.

remover

5.

hazardous

e.

chemicals

6.

above the recommended

f.

safety level

7.

choose fragrance-

g.

free versions

8.

Her conclusions

h.

angered manufacturers

9.

lacks a real-world risk

i.

perspective

10.

the products were safe and

j.

did not cause ill health

GAP FILL:

Toxic chemicals found in household products

New research has found that many common household products contain harmful chemicals. The University of Washington study analyzed a range of six top-selling fabric softeners, detergents and air fresheners. Researchers discovered at least one chemical in the products that are described as toxic or hazardous under US laws. Professor Anne Steinemann said: "I was surprised by both the number and the potential toxicity of the chemicals that were found." She added: "I didn't find a brand that didn't emit at least one toxic chemical." She explained that the chemicals included acetone, which is an active ingredient in paint thinner and nail-polish remover. She also outlined a number of other hazardous chemicals.

Test results showed 58 different volatile chemicals above the recommended safety level. Researchers found an air freshener that contained more than 20 different harmful compounds, of which, seven are regulated as being toxic. Steinemann’s advice for consumers was: "Be careful if you buy products with fragrance, because you really don't know what's in them….I'd like to see better labeling. In the meantime, I'd recommend that instead of air fresheners people use ventilation, and with laundry products, choose fragrance-free versions." Her conclusions angered manufacturers, who said the research “really lacks a real-world risk perspective". A spokesman said the products were safe and did not cause ill health.

LANGUAGE WORK

1 - d

2 - a

3 - b

4 - c

5 - c

6 - b

7 - d

8 - a

9 - b

10 - d

11 - c

12 - a

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