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AUDIO: Using data to cover hazmat pollution

By Hannah Schmidt

Journalists Denise Malan, Ben Poston and Tim Wheeler all used data to create stories on hazardous materials and the environment. The three discussed state and national databases that track pollution and hazardous waste at the NICAR Conference in Baltimore.

NICAR offers a hazardous waste database. Malan described how to use it and what kinds of data reporters can find.

She also gave examples of stories that were created from the dataset:

Iowa Watch: Little Information Exists About Hazardous Materials Traveling Across Iowa 

MinnPost: Visualizing hazmat incidents in Minnesota  

Public Source: PA fifth in the nation in hazardous spills  


Interested in additional datasets on hazardous waste? Here are a few of Malan’s favorites from when she was a reporter in Texas.

Toxic Release Inventory 

Environmental code violations

EPA Dataset gateway 

Poston created a project for the Los Angeles Times on the tracking of hazardous waste in California. As he was creating this piece, he encountered some big problems with the dataset provided by the state.


Poston said, had the dataset been complete, he would have also looked into unlicensed transport facilities, the locations of transfer or disposal facilities in relation to parks, schools or churches and the possibility of waste dumping.

Lastly, Wheeler discussed a different kind of pollution: agricultural waste. He used an EPA dataset to create a story about regulators lagging on permit enforcement in Maryland.


Want to listen to the entire panel? Log in to, go to the "Danger! Hazardous materials: Using data to uncover pollution" panel page and click "Download here" next to the audio file option. Full-panel audio is only available for IRE members.

Full slides from the panelDenise Malan | Ben Poston

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