Dirty Water: A Case Study
Author: Sylvia Kniest

Time: 3-4 class periods
Copy article: “Death by Arsenic”
Materials: Class set of article: “Death by Arsenic” and access to computer lab


Students will gain an appreciation for the value of having access to a supply of clean drinking water and then explore the problem of arsenic contamination of ground water. Their research will have them investigate the causes of arsenic contamination and what is being done to deal with the problem. Students will also gain a greater understanding of the interdependence of the global community.

Students will be able to:
1. Identify the causes of arsenic contamination
2. List the world organizations involved in ensuring sanitary water supplies
3. Describe various methods to mitigate arsenic contamination.

National Geography Standard
Standard 14: How human actions modify the physical environment.
Standard 15: How physical systems affect human systems.
Standard 16: The changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution, and importance of resources.

Teacher Background
The websites: http://phys4.harvard.edu/~wilson/arsenic/arsenic_project_introduction.html and
provide a great deal of information about the issue of arsenic contamination.

Related and Resource Websites
http://www.arsenicfilters.com/bangladesh.htm “Death by Arsenic”
http://phys4.harvard.edu/~wilson/arsenic/arsenic_project_introduction.html “Chronic Arsenic Poisoning”
http://www.thewaterpage.com/arsenic_links.htm "The Water Page"
http://www.nationalgeographic.com/index.html "National Geographic Site for maps and physical geography



Part 1: (one class period)
Introduce the lesson by having the students read the article; “Death by Arsenic”.
1. What world organizations are mentioned in the article and what is their role in dealing with the crisis of arsenic contamination?

2. What is being done to prevent arsenic contamination in communities?

3. Should people living in the United States have the same concerns about arsenic contamination as people living in Bangladesh? Why or why not?

Part 2: (1-2 class periods)
Take students to the computer lab for research.
Have the students explore the sites: http://phys4.harvard.edu/~wilson/arsenic/arsenic_project_introduction.html and

In order to:

  • Identify the causes of arsenic contamination of water.
  • Identify the organizations that are concerned with arsenic contamination and their roles in preventing contamination.
  • List various techniques being used to remove arsenic from the drinking water

Part 3: (1-2 class periods or homework)
This activity may be completed for homework or done in the computer lab or classroom:
Students will create a case study based on the information they gathered from their computer research that focuses on each of the following categories:

  • The problem: Introduce the case study by describing the extent and effects of arsenic contamination
  • Human interest story: create an original story about the impact of arsenic contamination on an individual or family. Include a description of a specific geographic region, including environmental and physical features of the area where the story takes place. Students may access geographic information at the website: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/index.html
  • Proposed Solution: Conclude the case study by describing what may be done to resolve the problem

Have students peer edit the case studies by using the following check list:
Instructions: As you read your partner’s paper, rank each of the following categories with either: (5) excellent, (4) good, (3) average, (2) below average, (1) poor or not present

___ the problem is clearly stated

___ the setting of the story includes a description of the physical environment and leaves the reader with a visible image of the area

___ the effect of arsenic contamination on the main character in the story is believable

___ the proposed resolution is clearly described

Students may complete their case studies for homework.

Embedded Assessment
Case studies will be assessed on the content and grammar.

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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