This morning we published the second major installment in our USA TODAY Supplement Shell Game series in print and online. I traveled to Mexico in search of Riger Natural, the company listed on bottles of Reumofan. The pills, sold as an all-natural dietary supplement for arthritis and joint pain, have become popular with U.S. consumers -- despite warnings by the FDA that they may be secretly spiked with potentially dangerous prescription medications. Read the full USA TODAY article here: Maker of dangerous pain pills is 'ghost' that can't be found
USA TODAY's "Ghost Factories" investigation has received one of the highest honors in business journalism: The Gerald Loeb Award. The award was announced at a banquet in New York City last week. To read more about the award and other winners: USA TODAY's 'Ghost Factories' wins national award
A photo from the recent Hillman Prize ceremony in New York. I'm joined onstage with USA TODAY colleagues Stan Wilson Jr., Kristin DeRamus and Peter Eisler. Many more photos are posted by the Hillman Foundation on their website.
Our "Ghost Factories" investigation today received a prestigious Hillman Prize, which honors investigative reporting in service to the common good. On Friday, the series was honored with a second-place for Journalistic Innovation in the National Headliner Awards.
More than a decade ago, the Environmental Protection Agency was warned that soil in hundreds of U.S. neighborhoods might be dangerously contaminated with lead from factories that closed long ago. Yet USA TODAY reporter Alison Young, with additional reporting by Peter Eisler, found state and federal regulators left thousands of families and children in harm’s way, doing little to check out the sites or warn residents of the danger.
Lead from old smelters settles into the topsoil, where children can easily be exposed to it. It is a potent neurotoxin. Minute amounts of lead can cause decreased IQ, delayed puberty, and other irreversible damage to children, who are the most susceptible to its effects. According to EPA standards, lead levels in children’s play areas should not exceed 400 ppm, but the reporters found lead levels in excess 2,000 ppm in several neighborhoods and lead levels over 3,400 ppm in Cleveland, OH, Portland, Ore., and Carteret, NJ.
The series has resulted in the EPA reexamining risks at 464 sites nationwide, following calls for action by seven U.S. senators. More than a dozen state agencies also have been conducting investigations and several sites are already targeted for cleanups.
“Ghost Factories” stood out in the Web Journalism category because the investigation was reported and written as a digital-first project, harnessing the storytelling power of the newspaper’s online platforms. These journalists made effective use of a wide range of innovative reporting and storytelling techniques — combining the research of archival maps, photographs and dusty old records with the use of state-of-the-art scientific instruments and digital publishing technology.
Young and Eisler were trained to test soil with $41,000 hand-held X-ray devices in 21 smelter neighborhoods in 13 states and their work was verified by a laboratory at Tulane University. They also obtained medical records from children living in contaminated areas, proving that the youngsters had accumulated excess lead in their bodies.
In an effort to further reach out to people living in several of the smelter neighborhoods where reporters did soil testing, USA TODAY distributed more than 1,000 free copies of the print newspaper, explaining how to find information about every local site online.
“Ghost Factories” combines journalistic rigor, technical innovation, a humane sensibility, and an implacable drive for accountability.
Government inspections often failed to detect important safety and security lapses at laboratories working with dangeorus germs and toxins that can be used as bioterror weapons, a recent audit found. Meanwhile, a new GAO report says the United States is at increased risk of accidents at these high-containment labs because there continue to be no national standards for their design, construction and maintenance.
USA TODAY's "Ghost Factories" series was recently a finalist in two categories of the Scripps Howard Awards. It was a finalist for the Roy W. Howard Award for Public Service reporting, and also a finalist for the Ursula and Gilbert Farfel Prize for Investigative Reporting. (Full press release.)
The series also received an honorable mention in the competition for the John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism. (Full press release.)
Last May, because of current science showing children are harmed by even low-level exposures to lead, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cut by half the amount of the toxin in a child's blood that should trigger public health actions.
Contaminated house dust and soil are among the key ways children are exposed to lead. Yet the Environmental Protection Agency says it has no current plans to revise its 2001 standards for how much lead is considered hazardous in dust and soil.
The EPA has been studying whether its house dust standard is protective enough since it received a formal petition in 2009 from a group of environmental and children's advocates. But the soil standard wasn't part of that petition and the EPA told USA TODAY last week it believes it is effective.
At least five more homes near a forgotten lead factory site in Portland, Ore., will have lead-contaminated soil removed from their yards by the Environmental Protection Agency. The planned cleanups, which are in addition to 20 tons of lead- and arsenic-tainted soil already removed from one home in the neighborhood, are a result of USA TODAY's "Ghost Factories" investigation.
Alison Young has more than 20 years of experience as an investigative reporter and editor at major U.S. newspapers. She is currently a member of USA TODAY's investigative team and is past president of Investigative Reporters and Editors, a national journalism training organization. Young is a frequent speaker on the techniques of watchdog journalism. This site is her personal portfolio of articles and reporting tips. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.