poisoned waters

Discussion Questions


After viewing the film, discuss the following questions with students:


  • When was the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) formed? What events prompted its formation?
  • How did deregulation of industry during the Reagan years affect water quality and the overall power of the Environmental Protection Agency?
    • What does “voluntary compliance” mean?
    • Why do businesses favor voluntary compliance?
  • The Clean Water Act of 1972 allows citizens to sue alleged offenders if government agencies do not act. Why is that provision of the law important?
  • The expression “canary in the coal mine” means an early warning of danger. (Coal miners would carry canaries or small animals with them into mines to detect deadly but odorless and tasteless methane gas.)
    • To what does the expression “canary in the coal mine” apply in Poisoned Waters?
  • Twenty million Americans took to the streets for the first Earth Day in 1970 as a result of pollution they could see and smell: The Cuyahoga River in Cleveland burned, with flames that towered eight stories high; the1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara closed virtually all the beaches in Southern California; people had declared Lake Erie dead.
    • How, according to the film, have both pollution and people's reaction to Earth Day changed since 1970?
  • What do “endocrine disruptors” do? Why do genetic mutations in fish disturb scientists so much?
  • How do the products that average people use each day end up polluting the nation's and world's waterways?
  • How should we pay for environmental cleanup? Should it be the responsibility of industry? Government? Individuals? Explain your reasoning.
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