Sept. 08, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

Toxic waste sites flooded; AP on the scene ahead of EPA

Hurricane Harvey inundated homes, flooded freeways and swamped entire neighborhoods. Florida-based reporter Jason Dearen, who was deployed to Houston to help cover the disaster, knew there might be something else submerged beneath the turbid floodwaters. Superfund sites, some of the nation’s most contaminated places, are scattered along the low-lying Gulf coastline, including in the Houston area.

Dearen had been trying to obtain a copy of a federal study about the risks of flooding at those sites from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but had been stonewalled for two weeks. Harvey’s destruction provided new urgency to his request. For help, he reached out to Washington investigative reporter Michael Biesecker, a fellow member of the AP’s environmental beat team.

Through creative reporting that relied on data, collaboration and Dearen’s newfound skills as a boat man, they became the first journalists to report on the extent of flooding at contaminated waste sites in and around Houston. The on-site observations by Dearen and freelance 360-video producer Claudia Prat raised concerns that some of the decades-old toxic stew left over from the oil, gas and chemical industries may have mixed with floodwaters. They also were on the ground – and on the water – before the EPA’s own inspectors. For their efforts, Dearen, Biesecker and Prat win Beat of the Week.

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March 04, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP investigation: Toxic chemicals lie beneath Fort Ord

spent a year investigating the possible health effects of groundwater and soil contamination under Fort Ord, a decommissioned U.S. Army base on the central California coast. A tip led AP to a Facebook group of hundreds of soldiers who had lived at the base and developed rare forms of cancer they believe were caused by contamination.The complex, all-formats story included in-depth interviews with those likely suffering health consequences of exposure at the base, which is on the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of the most polluted places in the nation. The team revealed a discredited 25-year-old study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found no “likely” risk at the site, and documents showing the Army knew toxic chemicals had been improperly dumped at Fort Ord for decades, but took pains not to let that information become public. Read more

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Oct. 18, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Venezuelan fishermen live, work in oil industry wasteland

for a beautifully shot all-formats package that captures the collapse of Venezuela’s once-prosperous oil industry through fishermen and women who scratch out an existence on the blackened, sticky shores of Lake Maracaibo. People cast their nets and lines in waters fouled by black gunk seeping from broken rigs that once fueled the country’s wealth. Abd spent several days in the villages of Cabimas, documenting the home life and workday of the fishers. He returned with a team including Smith and Nunes. They watched the fishermen struggle with oily nets, and interviewed women who scrub oil from fish and crabs before eating or selling them. On his second trip to Cabimas, Abd brought a 19th century-style box camera to make black and white portraits of the fishermen and industrial decay around them. The package played widely on web sites including the Chicago Tribune, Houston Chronicle, Miami Herald, San Francisco Chronicle, The Seattle Times, MSN and Yahoo.https://bit.ly/2pd49quhttps://bit.ly/2Bnd5wwhttps://bit.ly/2MqwenJ

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April 06, 2018

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Confidential toxicology report details Prince overdose

In the nearly two years since Prince’s sudden drug overdose death in 2016, Minneapolis reporter Amy Forliti has closely tracked the criminal investigation into his death, cultivating sources who could help her break developments along the way, including the possibility of criminal charges.

A medical examiner's scant one-page report had cited an accidental overdose of fentanyl as the cause of Prince’s death, but provided almost no other detail. Forliti had pursued a copy of the autopsy and toxicology report ever since from multiple sources. She finally obtained the confidential toxicology report on March 26.

Forliti talked to three experts not involved in the case who analyzed blood and liver readings in the report and characterized them as “exceedingly high” – as one expert put it, they were very high even for a chronic pain patient. The details were something no other media could match.

Forliti's exclusive was widely played. It led the Minneapolis Star Tribune's website for hours and made the printed paper, a rarity for a story on which they compete with AP. CNN referenced the story on-air and online with credit to AP.

For relentlessly working her sources to break news on a long-simmering story, Amy Forliti wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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April 10, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP investigation: US wasted months before preparing for pandemic

examined weeks of federal procurement records, including a thorough review of federal purchasing contracts, to create a detailed timeline of events related to the spread of COVID-19 and the Trump administration’s response to the outbreak. The records show that the U.S. wasted two months when it could have been preparing to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Federal agencies largely waited until mid-March – when hospitals in several states were already treating thousands of infected patients – to begin placing bulk orders of N95 respirator masks, mechanical ventilators and other equipment needed by front-line health care workers.

When AP White House reporter Kevin Freking attempted to ask Trump about the issue at Sunday’s briefing, the president angrily cut off the question, helping drive readers to Biesecker’s story, which was widely shared on social media.https://bit.ly/3aVhmavhttps://bit.ly/3aZdLby

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Jan. 28, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Elite California suburb clamps down on water wasters

reported exclusively on a California water district — home to Kim Kardashian and other celebrities — that may have the state’s harshest water restrictions during the current drought.The Las Virgenes Municipal Water District, just north of Los Angeles, is among districts that rely almost exclusively on state water supplies. Ronayne, Sacramento-based environment/climate reporter, learned of the district’s new penalties for water wasters while reporting that in the midst of drought, local districts may not get any of the state water supply they’d requested in 2022. She decided to find out more, reasoning that what’s being imposed in Las Virgenes may serve as a model for other water districts as the drought continues.When Las Virgenes officials explained they would slow water flow to a trickle for households that keep wasting, Ronayne knew she had a story. With further reporting, she confirmed that the district's conservation tactics went further than others.Ronayne’s exclusive on the district’s approach hooked AP customers and readers, partly because Las Virgenes serves celebrity-filled neighborhoods. District officials said many rich residents don't bother to cut back when fined; water isn't an expensive commodity for them and the penalties aren’t significant — until the water slows to a trickle. https://aplink.news/1dv

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Sept. 28, 2018

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Florence's environmental toll: coal ash and hog waste

for leading strong AP coverage of the devastation of Hurricane Florence. Biesecker drew on experience to warn readers that the storm would likely cause widespread water pollution from ruptured hog lagoons and swamped coal ash dumps, and scored a series of storm-related scoops. Helber captured iconic images including a widely used aerial shot that earned a rare two-page spread in Time magazine.https://bit.ly/2xMWdwMhttps://bit.ly/2NEn7lrhttps://bit.ly/2zw7WlNhttps://bit.ly/2Og1G9U

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July 20, 2018

Best of the States

AP investigation: Pence family’s failed gas station empire cost taxpayers millions to clean up

Indianapolis correspondent Brian Slodysko’s investigative story started from one sentence buried in a news release. It said that the public was paying for environmental cleanup at a contaminated petroleum storage site in Indianapolis that Vice President Mike Pence’s family abandoned after their gas station empire went bankrupt in 2004. The release didn’t mention Pence, just Kiel Brothers.

After attending a demolition celebration, where he photographed a crew tearing down a massive tank that had long-blighted a neighborhood, Slodysko worked over the coming months to detail how extensive contamination from the business was – and quantify the public cost.

The result: Indiana taxpayers paid more than $21 million to clean up after the company, in all likelihood a conservative figure because many of the documents were redacted, missing or incomplete.

But cost alone doesn’t tell the whole story. Slodysko’s review of public records showed that the Pence family business – which was run by Mike Pence’s older brother Greg, who is now running for Congress – repeatedly received favorable treatment from the state.

The story ran, or was teased, on the front page of at least eight Indiana papers, including the Indianapolis Star, which ran the story and photo across the top. It was also featured on the website of the Columbus Republic, Mike Pence’s hometown newspaper.

For an investigation that revealed the millions of tax dollars used to clean up more than 85 contaminated sites in three states, Slodysko earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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April 09, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP examines vaccine inequity for already marginalized workers

teamed up with international colleagues for a compelling account of vaccine inequity in India, Africa and Latin America, exposing the plight of an estimated 20 million informal waste workers who keep cities clean and divert waste away from landfills but are not yet eligible to get the coronavirus vaccine.Health and science reporter Ghosal was exploring vaccine policy in India when he was stuck by the sheer invisibility of the scavengers who live on the fringes, far from the public discourse around who should be prioritized for vaccination. Ghosal worked with photographer Qadri and video journalist Ganguly for on-the-ground reporting at the massive garbage mountain on the outskirts of New Delhi. They came back with moving personal stories that added depth to the narrative, with powerful visuals laying bare the workers’ experience amid grinding poverty.To amplify the work, Ghosal reached out to colleagues across Africa and in Latin America, who shared similar accounts of exclusion and deep-rooted inequalities in access to health care. They delivered, adding to a story that included contributions by Brian Inganga and Tom Odula in Nairobi, Farai Mutsaka in Zimbabwe, Mogomotsi Magome in Johannesburg, Marco Ugarte in Mexico City, Ariana Cubillos in Venezuela and Manish Swarup in New Delhi.The arresting all-formats package highlighted how the pandemic has exacerbated existing income inequalities. The words and images of trash pickers wearing discarded protective suits in Nairobi, and scavengers plunging their bare hands into thousands of tons of garbage in New Delhi, reveal a community of marginalized workers who struggle to get vaccinated despite providing a service many consider essential.https://bit.ly/3utbKO7https://bit.ly/3fNIDAZhttps://bit.ly/2R8XA6l

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Nov. 30, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP connects palm oil industry, top brands to abuse of women

followed up on their initial reporting that exposed widespread labor abuse in the palm oil industry, conducting a comprehensive investigation into the brutal treatment of women in the production of the omnipresent ingredient, including rapes by plantation supervisors, serious health issues from toxic chemicals and injuries from back-breaking loads. The pair then traced the oil produced by these women to the supply chains of top Western beauty brands — including conglomerates that make billions of dollars as they market the empowerment of women.Mason and McDowell persuaded dozens of female workers to tell their searing stories, spending months getting the women to trust them and then arranging clandestine meetings in an effort to protect the workers from retaliation by plantation owners. They bypassed the stonewalling of major Western brands that refused to say whether their products contain palm oil by using company data and U.S. Customs records to link the workers’ abuse to the brands’ palm oil supply chains.The package featured striking digital display, video and evocative photos by Indonesia-based stringer Binsar Bakkara, as well as a powerful series of closeups of workers’ hands cradling familiar products containing the fruits of their labor.The story is nearing 250,000 page views on AP News. The Clorox Company, which owns Burt’s Bees Inc., said it would raise the allegations of abuses with its suppliers, calling AP’s findings “incredibly disturbing.” https://bit.ly/3liKAV3https://bit.ly/2VeVUXRhttps://bit.ly/3mlXgfd

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