Mock Accident Plus Hazmat Team Equals Fun Learning

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Provided by Prince William County Schools (PWCS)

This story features a learning activity that took place prior to school closures due to COVID-19.

What if a tanker truck was involved in an accident on the Route 123 bridge and its contents began spilling into the Occoquan River?

Kathy Lamont is the Antietam Elementary School Gifted Education Teacher. She posed this hypothetical question to her fifth-grade students in a problem-based learning lesson. A presentation from the Prince William County Department of Fire and Rescue’s (PWC DFR) Hazardous Materials (HazMat) Operations Team gave students an inside look at what really happens. The local setting made the problem more realistic.


Divided into groups, students figured out what the spill was (hydrochloric acid) and what actions were needed to protect people and the environment. To protect the people, they needed to re-route traffic. Using maps, they were able to direct traffic to Interstate 95, which helped drivers avoid the incident. But the bigger problem was working with an environmental group concerned about the toxic liquid spilling into the Occoquan River.

Fifth-grader Joy Svendsen said, “I liked doing experiments because we got to use the pH strips and do real things.” Her classmate Aryanna Beach said, “My favorite part was when we tested everything with the pH strips.”

DFR Presentation

During their presentation, PWC DFR Captain Chris Adams and HazMat Coordinator Matt Adkins talked about the hypothetical incident and related it to real events. They also shared the Emergency Response Guidebook. This resource is published by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

“It was cool to see they use the book that has each acid and the solutions for what to do with that acid or base,” fifth-grader Amina Kanu said. During the presentation, Brianna Atkinson picked up on a key point about hazmat incidents: “Sometimes you can’t do everything; sometimes you just have to stand back and watch, which is hard.”

Much to their delight, one of the presenters donned the chemical suit that first responders may wear at hazmat scenes. Fifth-grader Sarah Loy said, “It takes a long time to put on the hazmat suit.”

“I love being able to partner with people who actually do the things we study. It shows the students that what we are learning is important. And, there’s probably someone doing a job and using that information.” Lamont said.


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