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Digital Interactive Notebook

Arsenic exposure: Exploring the intersection of environmental health and susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2

Image of Digital Interactive Notebook title pageArsenic is a naturally occurring element found in water, food, air and soil. It is odorless and tasteless. In its inorganic form, arsenic is highly toxic and is a known carcinogen to humans. Long-term exposure is associated with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other negative health effects (Sanders, 2012).

The emerging science on the study of coronaviruses poses the question of how exposure to inorganic arsenic may be linked to health impacts caused by the new coronavirus (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2). Researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill are using genetically engineered mice that metabolize arsenic like humans to in order to investigate the extent to which exposure to inorganic arsenic may be linked to health impacts, such as susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2. This research is the focus of a digital interactive notebook (DIAN), which is a two-part interactive Google slide set that can be updated as research unfolds.

Image of example slide from Digital Interactive Notebook titled Where is Arsenic in Drinking Water found in North Carolina?

This digital interactive notebook consists of two parts:
  • Part I: Chemistry and Environmental Science describes the chemistry of arsenic and how it contaminates drinking water. Students explore the forms of arsenic and how it enters the water supply by analyzing maps of North Carolina while considering the factors of geology, soil, and the watershed. Students engage with the hypothesis developed by researchers to test how chronic exposure to inorganic arsenic enhances susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 infection and severity of COVID-19.
  • Part II: Biology and Biotechnology describes research taking place at UNC-Chapel Hill to test the effects of arsenic exposure on susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2. Students learn about the use of homologous recombination as a tool to genetically engineer “humanized” mouse models and are introduced to factorial design as an approach to test the effects of multiple variables (e.g., gender and arsenic dose) on a response (susceptibility SARS-CoV-2).

Access the Digital Interactive Notebook

Recommended Citation

Haine, D.B., Yelton, S., Dion, L., Strada, M., Xenakis, J. (2021) Arsenic exposure: Exploring the intersection of environmental health and susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2, A Digital Interactive Notebook. UNC-Chapel Hill Superfund Research Program.


Dana Haine, MS, UNC-Chapel Hill, Sarah Yelton, MS, UNC-Chapel, Hill Linda Dion, NBCT, Holly Springs High School, Monica Strada, MAT, Research Triangle High School. & James Xenakis, PhD, UNC-Chapel Hill

Subject Matter Experts & Contributors

Owen Duckworth, PhD, North Carolina State University, Fernando Pardo-Manuel de Villena, PhD, UNC-Chapel Hill, & John Snouwaert, PhD, UNC-Chapel Hill


UNC-Chapel Hill Superfund Research Program (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (P42ES031007) & Center for Public Engagement with Science, UNC Institute for the Environment

Additional Educational Materials 

These resources have been developed with funding from the NIEHS to the UNC Superfund Research Program.  Individual lessons are generally suitable for high school science courses in biology, environmental science, chemistry and are aligned with both NC Science Standards and Next Generation Science Standards as appropriate.

Understanding Exposure to Toxic Metals
Exploring Movement of and Exposure to Other Toxic Chemicals
Investigating Hazardous Waste & Water Quality
  • Demonstrating Susceptibility
    This demonstration provides students with visual evidence that if two individuals are exposed to the same dose of a chemical, the individual with the smaller body size will have a greater concentration of the chemical in his/her body.
  • Understanding ppm and ppb with Serial Dilution
    Students will perform a serial dilution of food coloring to create highly diluted solutions to learn about the units, parts per million (ppm) and parts per billion (ppb), scientists often use to describe chemical contamination of water soil.
  • Investigating a Superfund Site
    (note: instructions are for investigating any site in the southeast region of state. Use list of NPL sites below for specific sites contaminated with arsenic in North Carolina)
  • A Case Study of A Civil Action
    After viewing an excerpt from the film, A Civil Action, students assume the role of environmental scientists and apply their knowledge of water and hazardous waste contamination to create a plan to help lawyer, Jan Schlichtmann, try the case.
  • Introducing Students to Environmental Justice
    Students are introduced to the concept of environmental justice by considering a North Carolina case study that involved a hazardous waste landfill and is often credited with launching the national environmental justice movement.
  • Water Muddle Up & Clean Up
    This activity is designed to safely model the ways in  which pollutants and hazardous chemicals may react when they reach water and the cumulative effect of land uses on water quality. 
Director: Rebecca Fry, PhD
Deputy Director: Fernando Pardo-Manuel de Villena, PhD
Funding provided by NIEHS grant #P42 ES031007

135 Dauer Drive
253 Rosenau Hall, CB #7431
Chapel Hill, NC, 27599-7431