Arsenic Globally
Lesson by Sarah Kenyon
Edited By Stephanie Nardei

Time: 2 class periods
Prep Time: Request computer room
Materials: Computers.


During this Apply lesson, student groups will be assigned an area of the world to describe how arsenic is affecting its population:

  • Where is it coming from?
  • Who is it affecting?
  • How are they affected?
  • What are their symptoms?
  • Is it acute or chronic poisoning and why?
  • What is being done to remediate the problem?
  • What is the student’s opinion as to whether or not this will work?


  1. Using directed questions, student groups will identify 5 internet resources
  2. Using these resources, students will identify relevant information by highlighting those sections that address the provided questions
  3. Student groups will present the answers to these questions to the class
  4. Students will identify the region they are investigating on a class map.
National Science Education Standards
CONTENT STANDARD F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

  • Natural ecosystems provide an array of basic processes that affect humans. Those processes include maintenance of the quality of the atmosphere, generation of soils, control of the hydrologic cycle, disposal of wastes, and recycling of nutrients. Humans are changing many of these basic processes, and the changes may be detrimental to not only to the human populations, but also to the environment.
  • Many factors influence environmental quality. Factors that students might investigate include population growth, resource use, population distribution, overconsumption, the capacity of technology to solve problems, poverty, the role of economic, political, and religious views, and different ways humans view the earth.

Some hazards, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and severe weather, are rapid and spectacular. But there are slow and progressive changes that also result in problems for individuals and societies. For example, changes in stream channel positions, erosion of bridge foundations, sedimentation in lakes and harbors, coastal erosions, and the continuing erosion and wasting of soil and landscapes can all negatively affect society.

Teacher Background
The following website is a great resource for current information about areas where chronic arsenic poisoning is an issue: http://phys4.harvard.edu/~wilson/arsenic/countries/arsenic_project_countries.html#canada

Related and Resource Websites
PULSE Resource Section on Arsenic http://pulse.pharmacy.arizona.edu/resources/arsenic/teachers.htm
EHP on Arsenic: collection of articles http://www.ehponline.org/topic/arsenic.html



In this apply lesson, students will begin by revisiting their explore lesson. Ask students, “Of the ways you saw that arsenic can get into people’s systems, which of those ways involved it getting into the drinking water?” (Pesticides, mine tailings and geological events/characteristics of an area should be mentioned).

Student groups will then be given one area of the world that is currently having issues with arsenic contamination of the water. Teachers should pick from the list in the following site: http://phys4.harvard.edu/~wilson/arsenic/countries/arsenic_project_countries.html#canada. We might recommend Bangladesh, Chile, Inner Mongolia, Nepal, Vietnam, USA (pick a region) but other locations can be picked if desired.

Students will be split into four groups and spend the first day working to identify 5 internet resources (one computer per group); they will then print out each of their 5 resources as their resource material. They must address:

1) What the problem is in the country/region (summarize)?
2) What is the origin of the arsenic (and in what form…chemically)?
3) Who is affected? Are there groups more at risk than others?
4) What are the symptoms of the arsenic poisoning?
5) What is being done to try to solve the problem?

(They should also be able to identify their area on a world map)

Each group will be given 5 colors of highlighter or pen to identify the sections of the articles that address each of these 5 questions. Teachers should spot check around the classroom during this part of the activity.

Student groups will formulate complete answers to the above questions to present in class the following day. They may use ONLY those resources they have gathered.

Students will then, as a group, present the answers to these questions in front of the class for their area (They will begin by affixing a pin to their area on a wall map and at the end of all the presentations a string will be attached to a sheet with their questions and answers that will be on the wall of the classroom). Each student will be given a packet with 4 sheets to take notes on the answers to the 5 questions for later reference and practice in note-taking.

Once the lesson is completed, go back to the list of ways arsenic can contaminate drinking water and ask students to show which of these their area was affected by, then discuss what differences were seen in each mechanism and why there might be differences (dose, chemical composition of the arsenic, cultural habits, method of exposure). Then discuss whether each is acute or chronic poisoning and why? Finally, ask students to give their opinions as to whether or not the solutions being worked on in each case will be sufficient to tackle the problem and why or why not?

At the end of this learning cycle, students will be asked to revisit their ideas about the original article. Do they know what is in the water they drink? How can they find out? What do they think is important for the general public to know? Encourage them to find out what their parents might know. They will also be asked to assess their resources. Were there enough appropriate resources? What would your ideal resource look like?


Embedded Assessment

Student note-taking skills, ability to weed through and target relevant information, and appropriate addressing of given questions can all be assessed, as well as group dynamics. As with the previous lessons, this lesson should make the state of current student understanding relatively transparent.

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

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


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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