Unsafe at Any Level

Unsafe at Any Level

Organisation: Reuters (United States)

Publication Date: 04/07/2017

Size of team/newsroom:large

Description

Last year, the city of Flint, Michigan, burst into the world spotlight after its children were exposed to lead in drinking water and some were poisoned. In the year after Flint switched to corrosive river water that leached lead from old pipes, 5 percent of the children screened there had high blood lead levels. A Reuters investigation found that Flint is no aberration. In fact, it doesn’t even rank among the most dangerous lead hotspots in America. A Reuters examination of lead testing results across the United States found almost 3,000 areas with poisoning rates far higher than in the tainted Michigan city. And many of these lead hotspots are receiving little attention or funding.

What makes this project innovative? What was its impact?

Reuters’ exploration of neighborhood-level blood lead testing results is unique in both journalism and public health research. Reporters obtained and processed undisclosed data from 21 U.S. states to create a first-ever interactive map that lets users track lead poisoning rates among children tested in communities across much of the country. Flint, Reuters found, doesn’t rank among the most dangerous lead hotspots in America, a finding that shocked even public health professionals. “Oakland has thousands of lead-poisoned children,” wrote Lawrence Brooks, Director of the Alameda County (CA) Healthy Homes Department. “Before that (Reuters) report, whispers about potential lead poisoning in Oakland were dismissed as an ‘East Coast phenomenon’ or a crisis contained to Flint.” The map has been shared by more than 39,000 Facebook users, and the accompanying story, which identified the thousands of poisoning hotspots, was Reuters’ most read investigation of 2016. It spurred scores of news articles, television segments or radio reports in cities and towns with poisoning problems. Reuters’ reporting, and the many follow-up stories it engendered, snapped cities, states, lawmakers and federal agencies to action. Among the responses: A California state assemblyman introduced legislation in March that would require every child in the state to be tested for lead. The University of Notre Dame is funding hundreds more childhood tests targeting a hotspot Reuters identified in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame has also approved a new graduate course allowing students to research the lead poisoning Reuters helped expose and to assist health officials. An Indiana lawmaker has introduced a bill to double lead screening rates among low-income children in her state. In Oakland, Calif., two City Council members introduced a resolution to require lead inspections for pre-1978 housing citywide. The city manager in Warren, Penn., is providing lead testing kits to families.

Technologies used for this project:

Excel, Microsoft SQL Server, ArcGIS, Mapzen Tangram
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