Case Study

Tuesday 2:10pm-2:30pm Weeks Geo: 140
Teaching Demo


Jane Dmochowski, University of Pennsylvania


I will provide a small portion of the reading in order for the participants to get "up to speed". I will also demonstrate how I deliver this "pre-class" information, the type of pre-class assignments students do for the class, and then demonstrate the class exercise of getting together with "like-minded" stake holders and presenting a plan to a diverse group of participants.


Students are given information about Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). This information helps them to understand that these are persistent legacy contaminants banned in 1977 by the EPA for concerns about the compound's toxicity. They are then introduced to two major American waterways contaminated with PCBs--the Hudson River and the Delaware River. In the Hudson River, dredging occurs to remove contaminated sediment. It is a costly and invasive process that quickly removes pollutants. The Delaware River has Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) that limit introduction of new pollutants and allow for natural attenuation. TMDLs are a long-term, non-disruptive solution that put a burden on local businesses and municipalities. Given the context and history of the contamination in each river, the two respective remediation methods are compared. The students are then given a new case in Charlotte, North Carolina, of elevated PCB concentrations from wastewater at the Mallard Creek treatment plant. They are then asked to take on the role of one of the stakeholders listed below and prepare to discuss their concerns, ideas, and preferred method of remediation for the possibility of contaminated waterways near Charlotte, NC during class.

  • North Carolina Department of Environmental Protection
  • Municipal water department in Charlotte
  • Resident living along the Rocky River


This case study was developed in my intermediate level undergraduate course. This course aims to introduce students to myriad earth and environmental issues—understanding how humans interact, affect and are influenced by our environment—as well as giving students an introduction to how complex cases are analyzed and what goes into decision-making at the individual, group, state, federal and global levels. The class analyzes 1-2 case studies each week, beginning with at-home preparatory assignments for each class, followed by in-class activities such as debates, drafting action plans, role-playing and group decision-making simulations. Each student researches and develops a case study of their own, including a lesson plan for how the case study would be taught to a later college class. These case studies, like the one that will be demonstrated, are then refined by me and used in a later semester. In this particular case study, students:

  1. Understand why Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)are a contaminant, and why they are still an issue in our waterways.
  2. Become familiar with state and national regulations surrounding soil-borne and waterborne contaminants and the health and environmental risks associated with PCBs, specifically.
  3. Gain familiarity with databases and reports from environmental organizations, as well as state and federal governmental departments.
  4. Evaluate different remediation practices, such as environmental dredging and TMDLs, from social, economic, and environmental perspectives within the context of a specific site.

Why It Works

Learning through case studies can be an effective method of not only teaching environmental course content, but giving students the opportunity to learn about decision-making and the importance of stake holders for any given environmental issue.