COOL CLASSES: “Topics in Environmental Chemistry: Lead in our Environment”

This chemistry course aims to understand the chemistry of lead, including as a public health effects of it as a toxin in the water, soil, and paint of our made environment.

Class name: “Topics in Environmental Chemistry: Lead in our Environment”

Taught by: Professor of Chemistry Robert Scarrow


Here’s what Scarrow had to say about his class:

This course is designed for students who already have good understanding of chemical principals with the goal of helping them understanding the chemistry of lead and how that chemistry has spawned useful products—anti-knock gasoline additives, paints, and water pipes, for instance—but also how the lead from these products has contaminated the environment and has caused serious neurological and other health damage through its interactions with human biochemistry. Although the primary focus is on the chemistry of lead, we also discuss public health studies probing the effects of chronic lead exposure as well as technical and political aspects of efforts to reduce the exposure of vulnerable populations to this toxic metal.

Lead in the environment was a big issue in the 1970s and 1980s, and the changes in attitudes and regulations during those decades resulted in large reductions in the average blood levels. This has reduced, but not eliminated, the concern about the health effects of lead. In the last two years, lead returned to the headlines as a result of the Flint water crisis and debates about governmental policy concerning lead abatement in older public housing units. In my research and teaching I have tended to concentrate on the coordination chemistry of metals to the left of and above lead in the periodic table—elements like iron, zinc and calcium. Yet toxic effects of lead are often ascribed to its ability to replace these “desirable” metals in the active sites of proteins. I, personally, wanted to learn more about the chemistry of lead and how it is similar to, and different from, the metals I have studied in the past, and decided the best way to do this was to offer a course so I could learn together with a group of Haverford students.


See what other courses the Department of Chemistry is offering this semester.

Photo:  (cc) George Thomas/Flickr

Cool Classes is a series that highlights interesting, unusual, and unique courses that enrich the Haverford experience