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Culture & Cycles: Arsenic and Human Health
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Many people in the world drink water contaminated by arsenic. Arsenic is an element that occurs naturally in the environment. The health effects of both high concentration exposures and low levels of arsenic in drinking water are being studied by biomedical scientists.

Argued to be one of the largest public health tragedies in the world, arsenic exposure via drinking water is thought to affect thousands every year.

  • How does arsenic get into the drinking water?
  • How can we get it out of the water
  • What illnesses does it cause?

The answers to these questions help people better understand how arsenic affects their health.

In this unit, students learn about the connections among human health, geography, and geology, using arsenic poisoning as an example. Students develop a persuasive presentation about how arsenic gets into the drinking water and what they have learned about the dangers of this exposure to people living in affected regions. This unit addresses the education standards for 9th grade.

Diagram of Learning Cycle Structure

Major Project
Students organize and deliver a presentation to an assigned community where there is a large amount of arsenic present in the drinking water. Students will formulate a persuasive advisory to the public educating the community not only about why arsenic is in the water and its’ affects in the ground water, but also the actions that might be taken to reduce the arsenic in the water they consume. During the presentation students must keep in mind the cultural background of their target audience and utilize scientific evidence, which will be presented in the form of statistics, charts, tables, etc.

Arsenic Movie
Click the following image for a description of how arsenic enters and affects our environment.
Click here for the Arsenic Movie.  You will need certain software to run it.

Cultures & Cycles Icon

Scientist Profile - Jay Gandolfi
Photo of Dr. Jay Gandolfi

Teachers
For more information and background check out this great article
"Arsenic: In Search of an Antidote to a Global Poison"
from Environmental Health Perspectives

EHP Icon

Week - Connection Science World Geography Language Arts Math
Week 1
In two pre-lessons for this unit science will learn about the complexities of watersheds, how the unequal distribution of fresh water impacts human life, and the importance of protecting and conserving fresh water.
     
Beyond the tap

Week 2
Students will explore groundwater systems as a vital component of watersheds, with a focus on point and non-point source contamination. Social studies supports this line of inquiry by teaching students how to read maps and how to analyze data embedded in the physical features of maps such as water usage. Language arts begins an in-depth examination of how to be a successful reader.
The Earth is an Orange Why is Reading Important?  
May We Present Planet Earth? Breaking Through Reading Roadblocks
Week 3
In science students will learn about the wastewater treatment process and will then test the quality of the drinking water from their cityís system. Social studies will introduce the concept of climate change and how weather patterns and physical features of the earth affect the living organisms. Language arts will explore how the skill of reading empowers individuals and how illiteracy is dangerous to a community, especially in regards to environmental health problems.
Who are Successful Readers? Calculating Parts per Million: Do we have a problem here?
The Changing Planet Where are we?
How does reading Empower us? How big is it? 
The Dangers of Illiteracy
Week 4
Students will explore the dose response of the freshwater crustacean, Daphnia, in learning how to do an environmental bioassay. Math supports this lesson by instructing the students on how to calculate parts per million. Social studies will look at manís impact on climate change and how international treaties could positively impact global warming. In language arts students will examine how strong research skills aid them in being independent learners.
Why be an Independent Learner? Biomagnification
Climate Change Roundtable Investigating Issues That Matter How many people live there?
Using Research Tools Successfully What do you want to know?: Country Statistics
Week 5
In science students will learn about the problems that arsenic in water causes and the new standards for arsenic levels in groundwater in the United States. Social studies classes will explore the impact that water sources have on the development of societies. In language arts students will continue to refine their research skills, especially crediting sources correctly. Math will support the other disciplines by teaching students how to create graphs to present statistics.
Headline
Arsenic and Old Lace
4 X 4 Water: The Indispensable Resource How can Research shape Ideas?

Bar and Histograms
What would you use? (Part 1)

Arsenic Globally Give Credit Where Credit is Due

Line and Scatter
What would you use? (Part 2)

Week 6
Students will see how the distribution of minerals in bedrock affects surrounding ground and surface water and how solutions precipitate out in different conditions. Social studies classes will build on the science by elaborating on how central clean water is to survival and therefore what role it plays in politics. Math will support these lessons by helping students to better understand data that is represented in pie charts. In language arts students will explore how advertisers use persuasive techniques to impact the marketplace.

Finding the Mother Load Who am I? The Merchants of Cool

What Pie?
What would you use? (Part 3)

Why here? Living in the Matrix
Around the World Target Audience
What happens to Create the Lode? The Three Appeals
Week 7
The connection between gold mines and arsenic contamination of the surrounding water sources will be explored in science. In social studies students will learn about the impact of arsenic contamination in water supplies across the globe. Language arts classes will connect to these lessons by seeing how persuasive techniques can be used to change human behavior beyond the commercial realm and will also review the essay writing process.
Not Just Gold
Create a Commercial  
Postcards from the Rim
The Powers of Persuasion
Persuade or Die!

Review: Essay Elements
  Natural Disasters Peer Editing
Week 8
Using skills learned in math, students in science will make posters illustrating how arsenic contamination occurs, how it causes environmental health problems, and how it can be alleviated. Social studies classes will examine natural and man-made disasters, with an eye towards determining into which category would fall arsenic contamination of water sources. In language arts students will look at how the speeches of some influential people of the 20th century used persuasive techniques.
What a Disaster! Great Speakers of the 20th Century
  The Water Dilemma Tricks and Techniques for Speech Delivery
Week 9
The real world problem of arsenic contamination of water sources in Bangladesh will be presented through role playing of members of the World Health Organization and scientists who would participate in such a symposium.

Evaluating Rhetoric  

 Water Mitigation Final Project

PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:


an
NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award

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Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694


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Last update: November 10, 2009
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