Term-Project Description


In groups of two or three, students are to perform a term-long research investigation, which can take one of two forms.


Option 1:

Investigate a recent environmental event that has been reported in the printed or electronic media, for example an oil spill, the discovery of a long-time release of a toxic-waste in a watershed, an explosion at a chemical plant, or the accidental release of a banned substance in the atmosphere.

The starting point of such project is the news article, or series of news articles, recounting the events. Then, the following four aspects of the event are to be examined:

(1) The existing conditions that allowed such a problem to take place;

(2) The early-response actions (relocation of residents, clean-up, mitigation);

(3) The different factions (industry, residents, environmentalists, regulators, ...) and their respective claims (who is opposed to who else and why; how scientific facts are lost to economic/political issues);

(4) The long-term solution to prevent this sort of problem in the future.

Students are asked to be as quantitative as possible, by citing relevant statistics or other numbers that may be available. All statements that are not the opinions of the authors must be documented by appropriate bibliographic citations. (Information may be drawn from web sources, but caution must be exercised as web pages do not always present unbiased information.)


Option 2:

Trace a harmful substance from its industrial or agricultural use to a drinking water supply. The following four aspects of the situation are to be examined:

(1) Description of the substance and its adverse health effects, based on medical findings;

(2) Brief history of use of this substance;

(3) Description of pathways taken by this substance;

(4) Brainstorming about possible remediation approaches, with discussion of their respective pros and cons, structured as follows:

- Source management (doing without, using less, using a substitute)

- Pathway management (different practice, treatment near source, recycling)

- Receptor management (water treatment before distribution, home treatment, curing the sick).



For either option, the research project culminates in a written report (10 to 20 pages, including illustrations and bibliography). Students are to deliver two copies of the report; one will be graded and returned to the students, the other retained by the instructor.


Grading will be as follows:

6/20 Amount of research

6/20 Organization and description of the findings

4/20 Critique of the event or situation, and proposed remedies for future

4/20 Clarity, style and illustrations.


In the course of this project, students are encouraged to consult the instructor and the teaching assistants.


Dates: Wednesday 11 January 2012 Last day to form teams

Friday 20 January 2012 Last day to decide on topic

Wednesday 7 March 2012 Project report submission


Student teams