08 Debate

2021 Topic: Addressing Lead in Water

Limited to the first 18 entries.


Should a clearly enforceable Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for lead in our water supplies be established under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)?

  • Affirmative side: Yes, there should be or,
  • Negative side,  No, there shouldn’t be because the present approach is working fine.

The SDWA generally establishes MCL’s for significant contaminants in our drinking water supplies.   The EPA has, however, established instead an “action level” in the case of lead.  This means: water suppliers like towns, villages or private water companies that have high levels above this action level, must establish a “course of action”, a treatment system or other method, to bring down these higher levels.  Is this approach working? Are considerations of the nature of harm from lead in water supplies, the chemistry of the releases,  and the solutions being implemented sufficiently protective, or is a firm enforceable standard (under the Safe Drinking Water Act this is called the maximum contaminant level, MCL) called for today? Recall, too, that today, many political trends suggest fewer government regulations are desirable and private management tools are favored.

Consider in your argument the elements of the incident of lead contamination in Flint Michigan. In this case, the Flint River presented unique chemical circumstances, but in addition, the incident in this community, like so many similar urban communities, presented regulators with issues of social and environmental justice.  Lead is known to harm vulnerable populations. Studies have shown that neurological systems of children are impacted and learning abilities are impaired.  Similar concerns have led to initiating progress towards addressing this issue in Newark, NJ. The costs of mitigating lead exposure is high, too. Is the authority of the Safe Drinking Water Act the proper tool to protect our communities’ water supplies or are there alternatives?  


Part 1 - Conduct general literature research on the issue:

  1. Prepare a five-page essay with citations (Times New Roman font, double-spaced, 12 pt.  The essay must conclude with an advocacy position answering the question of whether a clearly enforceable Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for lead in our water supplies be established under the Safe Drinking Water Act.  Students must also submit two questions, one for a Pro position opponent and one for a Con position opponent, to ask the opposing team on Event Day.

  2. Prepare oral presentations on each side of the debate (YES, establish an MCL for lead, and NO, do not establish an MCL for lead).  Students must be prepared to argue either side on Event Day.

  3. Optional:  Prepare ONE slide for each side of the debate (YES, NO) that can be displayed during your oral presentation.

  4. REQUIRED:  Submit your essay and the two questions for opposing sides (YES, NO) by MAY 15 (before Event Day!) for the judges to review beforehand and prepare questions on. 

The essay should address:

  • What is lead?

  • What are the chemical characteristics of lead?

  • How and why is lead found in drinking water?

  • What are the environmental impacts of lead and what are the recent concerns?

  • Have lead been limited by government agencies and how does instituting an MCL differ from the current methods of regulating lead in drinking water?

Part 2 - EVENT DAY

Each team must:

  1. Randomly be assigned either the YES or NO position by the judges.
  2. Present their assigned position (YES or NO) on the question in a 3 - 5 minute oral presentation, optionally with the ONE slide they prepared on that position
  3. The Judges will ask each team one question about this initial presentation.   Each team will take two minutes to address their question from the Judges.
  4. Each team will ask another team one question (previously submitted by their team) to be answered in one minute, after one minute of deliberation by the answering team.

Each team must have each member speak at least once during any of the aspects (initial or response to questions asked)  of the presentation.  The initial presentation can be done by one member or divided up into sections for different team members, not to exceed the total time as above.

The oral presentation and the submitted essay will be judged pursuant to the following rubric (1 to 5 points for each category):

  1. Clarity and organization
  2. Reasoning and creativity
  3. Use of supporting facts
  4. Reference material
  5. Persuasiveness