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What’s in Your Water?

Co Authors:

Betty Jo Chitester
Chemistry Department
Gannon University

Weslene T. Tallmadge
Chemistry Department
Gannon University


This directed case study uses a fictionalized story about a family that has recently moved to the Washington DC area and is confronted with a situation involving lead contamination of the municipal water supply. Students learn how basic chemical principles apply to human health and safety and, through selected readings, are introduced to sources of lead in drinking water as well as background information on municipal water supply treatment. Students use government sites to find the rules and regulations regarding drinking water and permissible levels of lead. They then research the health effects of lead and other sources of lead exposure in addition to drinking water.  The case includes opportunities for exploring the ethical issues involved in the DC lead contamination incident as well as for getting some practice in applying general chemical principles such as solubility and concentration units. This case would be appropriate for use early on in a fundamental chemistry course after students have been introduced to ionic compounds, atomic structure, ions, and unit conversions.

  • Recognize the importance of chemistry to issues in everyday life.
  • Identify the agency responsible for setting drinking water standards.
  • Identify some of the sources and health effects of lead exposure.
  • Describe the effect of temperature on solubility of lead salts.
  • Recognize the importance of unit conversions.
Keywords: Lead; water supply; solubility; regulatory agencies; public health and safety; lead poisoning; Flint; Washington; DC; D.C.
Topical Area: Ethics, Legal issues, Policy issues, Regulatory issues, Social justice issues
Educational Level: High school, Undergraduate lower division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Analysis (Issues), Directed, Discussion
Language: English
Subject Headings: Chemistry (General)   Environmental Science   Public Health  
Date Posted: 3/14/2019
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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