Case Studies

Investigations, long-form narratives, and other in-depth reports.

Worse for Wear: Indonesia’s Textile Boom

For residents of the West Java province near Bandung, economic growth has come at a steep price with the ruin of the Upper Citarum River and the destruction of rice fields contaminated with heavy metals. But a recent Indonesian court ruling, if upheld, could give environmentalists a small victory.

In Upstate New York, Leather’s Long Shadow

As its name implies, Gloversville, New York, was once the leather glove capital of the world and tanning of all kinds thrived across Fulton County. That heavily polluting industry fled to the developing world when it fell under emerging U.S. environmental regulations, and Gloversville has never been the same.

Skin Deep: Feeding the Global Lust for Leather

In this first installment of a four-part series examining the evolution and movement of the international tanning and textiles industries, Undark visits key leather-tanning districts in Bangladesh and India, where jobs are precious and workers — oftentimes children — process animal hides for a global market.

Bullet Proof

Despite ample scientific evidence linking the use of lead ammunition to a host of environmental and public health threats, roughly 90 percent of the 10 billion rounds purchased every year in the United States still contain lead. That, reform advocates say, is absurd — if not downright negligent.

Old Friends: The Promise of Parasitic Worms

A small group of dedicated researchers — along with a growing number of desperate, self-experimenting patients like author Leah Shaffer — are trying to understand the potential of parasitic worms, or helminths, to treat a range of autoimmune diseases. The path to commercialization, however, is far from clear.

For All They Know

The water crisis in Flint, Michigan — a mass poisoning rife with narratives of social injustice, bigotry, and regulatory ineptitude — belies a less frequently explored truth: Government officials and even scientists remain breathtakingly ignorant about the millions of miles of pipes that deliver our water.

Worse Than the Disease

Hard questions are being raised about a commonly used therapy, along with recent research supporting it, for chronic fatigue syndrome — one that in many cases made symptoms worse. The new scrutiny is cold comfort for patients subjected to the treatment for years without any real science to back it up.

Bombscapes: Of War and Earth

Landscapes are never the same after war, which is why many scientists argue that “bombturbation” — a term for the violent mixing of soils and other ground features by heavy artillery — is a key marker of the Anthropocene. Families living in bomb-scarred Laos have come to understand this all too well.

Endangered: A Bird and a Tribe

The Blue-bearded helmetcrest is a vanishingly rare hummingbird, and until March of last year, it hadn’t been seen in the wild for nearly 70 years. I traveled to the high mountains of Colombia to see it for myself, and returned with lessons both unexpected and essential in the complex ethics of conservation.

Spilled Milk

In California, genetically engineered goats produce a human enzyme that, researchers hoped, could prevent the deaths of thousands of children in the developing world by curbing diarrheal infections. But the goats, like other transgenic animals with potential benefits, remain in a regulatory limbo.

The Death of a Study

In 2000, the National Institutes of Health embarked on what was to be an unprecedented study of childhood disease. Fourteen years and $1.3 billion later, the study was killed with little to show for the time and money spent. Its failure, critics say, is a study in outsized ambitions and woeful mismanagement.

The Scientist Pot Farmer

Washington is in an awkward position: The EPA has not approved any pesticides for use on cannabis, but growers need guidance for their recently legalized crops. While regulators dawdle and universities keep their distance, scientist Alan Schreiber is stepping in — and hoping to sell some pot while he’s at it.