Resources for Educators
Arsenic exposure: Exploring the intersection of environmental health and susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2
A Digital Interactive Notebook

Access the Digital Interactive Notebook

Arsenic 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.

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).


  • 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

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.