Thanks to the diligent work of journalists Mike Phillis, Jim Salter and Jeff Roberson, AP was the only national outlet to get access to thousands of pages of documents that gave a glimpse of the federal government’s haphazard handling of nuclear waste in the St. Louis area.
Obtained by FOIA and through a collaboration with Muckrock, a nonprofit that works to request, analyze and share government documents, the documents revealed decades-old failures by government agencies. Phillis and Salter ultimately spent six months working on the project around other duties.
Salter, who had reported previously on the issue, tapped prior sources to find people who explained how they were victimized by cavalier attitudes about handling waste as the nation rushed to develop an atomic weapon. Phillis and Salter interviewed activists, health experts and historians to add context to their findings.
Roberson shot photos and video for the package, including an emotional gathering of several people with health problems they blame on exposure to the waste. Climate Team visual journalist Brittany Peterson produced a video edit that handled with sensitivity an issue many people believed to be in the past.
AP’s story — which moved at the same time as Muckrock and a third partner, The Missouri Independent — drove the news in St. Louis for the next day and a half. Many outlets, including the Washington Post, published the AP story. The coverage also drew bipartisan reaction from members of Congress and state lawmakers, with vows to introduce legislation to compensate victims and requests for the Missouri attorney general to open an investigation.