Carnegie Mellon University

Brownfields Identification - Soil

Brownfields Soil


Students will work in a group to find and analyze “contaminants” (cards with words on them) in containers of soil. They will use the Guide to Brownfields Contaminants to determine if the land would be considered a brownfield.


Prior to the class, the teacher should print and (if possible) laminate cards that list contaminants that may be found on a vacant property. Several five gallon containers should be filled with dirt and placed around the classroom. Several cards should be hidden in each container. Use the “Guide to Brownfields Contaminants” to have each bucket reflect contamination that may be found at a certain brownfield. Remember to create some containers that are not brownfields (they may contain household items or “everyday” garbage, but not hazardous materials).

Student teams will travel to each container during the class period. The students will dig through the dirt to find all of the “contaminants” in the container, and will list these on their student page.

The group will assess the sample to determine the prior use of the land to whether it is a brownfield. The group must explain why they made the decision.

The group will re-bury the contaminant cards in the soil, move to the next container and repeat the digging and analysis activity.