February 18, 2009 The Pump Handle 0Comment

Our regular readers may already be familiar with Susanne Rust and Meg Kissinger, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporters who investigate the stories behind chemicals used in consumer products. Their series “Chemical Fallout” includes articles on bisphenol A and flame retardants, and in-depth looks at how EPA and FDA are (or aren’t) regulating the many chemicals we encounter on a daily basis.

Rust and Kissinger have just won a George Polk Award, which was established by Long Island University in honor of George W. Polk, a CBS correspondent killed while covering civil war in Greece in 1948. “By unearthing myriad forms of scandal and deceit in the last half-century, reporters have assumed an increasingly vital role in alerting and, ultimately, protecting the public,” the award’s website explains.

Here’s a sample of Rust and Kissinger’s award-winning writing, from their article “EPA veils hazardous substances”:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency routinely allows companies to keep new information about their chemicals secret, including compounds that have been shown to cause cancer and respiratory problems, the Journal Sentinel has found.

The newspaper examined more than 2,000 filings in the EPA’s registry of dangerous chemicals for the past three years. In more than half the cases, the EPA agreed to keep the chemical name a secret. In hundreds of other cases, it allowed the company filing the report to keep its name and address confidential.

This is despite a federal law calling for public notice of any new information through the EPA’s program monitoring chemicals that pose substantial risk. The whole idea of the program is to warn the public of newfound dangers.

The EPA’s rules are supposed to allow confidentiality only “under very limited circumstances.”


The newspaper’s findings are just the latest example of how EPA administrators more often than not put company interests above the needs of consumers. Over the past 18 months, the Journal Sentinel has reported on numerous EPA programs that bow to corporate pressure, frustrating health and environmental advocates and disregarding the agency’s own mission to inform the public of potentially dangerous chemicals.

Read the whole article here, or check out the Chemical Fallout page for all of the articles. The New York Times has details on all 14 of the Polk awardees. In addition to the Journal-Sentinel series, our readers may also be interested in the winner of the television reporting award: the team behind the CBS 60 Minutes segment “The Wasteland,” which investigates the health and environmental problems in the Chinese city Guiyu, where much of our electronic waste is shipped for recycling.

Reading the descriptions of these award-winning pieces is a reminder of just how much we stand to lose as newspapers and other media outlets pare down their reporting staffs.

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