Stories

The IRE Resource Center is a major research library containing more than 27,000 investigative stories.

Most of our stories are not available for download but can be easily ordered by contacting the Resource Center directly at 573-882-3364 or rescntr@ire.org where a researcher can help you pinpoint what you need.

Search results for "environment" ...

  • A Deadly Explosion

    A major explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, on April 17, 2013 killed 15, people including a dozen first responders. More than 200 people were injured and a small Central Texas farming community was left devastated. Though West is 200 miles away from Houston, the Chronicle immediately marshaled forces from all corners of the newsroom on this major story. Our goal quickly was to dig deep and uncover why the explosion happened and what could have been done to prevent it. We pulled in our investigative team, our environmental reporter, our science reporter, our Austin bureau, a columnist and several others on this story.
  • Ethanol Project

    The "Ethanol Project” reviewed the ethanol industry in Brazil, the United States, Colombia and Peru. It revealed a new generation of business executives who lead an industry dependent on subsidies, lobbying and very favorable loans awarded by multilateral organizations. The story showed how the ethanol industry has begun to experience some tough adjustments, and how the environmentalists that once endorsed the industry are asking how sustainable the industry really is and what contribution, if any, it is making to the environment.
  • Chemical Drift, the Second-Hand Smoke of Big Agriculture

    This series documented the dangers posed by agricultural chemicals which are applied both aerially and by land equipment. Some estimates show up to 90 percent of applied chemicals fail to hit the targeted site and drift hundreds of miles in the environment, contaminating people, water systems, air and animals. The series revealed that current safety standards were based on old theories of toxicology, which assume that the danger of chemical exposure is based on the dose. “The dose makes the poison” was the theory. That is not true with endocrine disrupting chemical pesticides that are non-monotonic, meaning that even at very low levels of exposure, significant damage can occur, especially if exposure is during childhood or fetal development. In “Pitchfork Rebels,” Howard wrote about organic farmers training to install environmental sampling devices known as Drift Catchers on their land. The resulting chemical analysis showed the presence of chlorpyrifos, an endocrine disrupting chemical insecticide linked to ADHD and autism, had drifted to their farms from an aerial application more than two miles away. The EPA banned all uses of chlorpyrifos in homes and daycare centers because of its toxicity for children, but it is still allowed in agricultural uses. This article documented the toxin’s drift to an organic farm where three young sisters live.
  • A new model for enterprise journalism in the digital age

    This non-traditional entry does not single out one project. Rather it identifies a process for not just maintaining but increasing high-quality investigative and enterprise efforts in an environment where many news organizations are cutting back. The collaboration is guided by a new statewide projects coordinator working with community news directors at “hubs” in 10 cities to identify high-interest topics. The position is unique in the company: combining the traditional roles of project editor, investigative reporter and back-end production coordinator. It was developed as MLive merged separate newspapers into a single entity that emphasizes content across many digital platforms, at the same time it wanted to boost watchdog and investigative reporting
  • Coyotes Under Fire

    A two-article series on the war against coyotes waged by the Wildlife Services agency and hunters and trappers in rural areas, and by police and hired contractors in suburbs and cities. Killing coyotes doesn't work. It's inhumane and a waste of taxpayer money. If done indiscriminately, it can kill unintended species and pets, harm people, and damage ecosystems and the environment. These stories describe what does work: Non-lethal methods of managing coyote populations that protect livestock, pets, people, and the environment.
  • Dispute over drug in feed limiting US meat exports

    Ractopamine, a controversial veterinary drug used widely in pork production to boost growth and leanness, is limiting US meat exports. An investigation of U.S. Food and Drug Administration records found that more pigs were reported to have suffered adverse effects from ractopamine than any other pork drug. The report, produced by the Food and Environment Reporting Network and published on msnbc.com, found that ractopamine had not only sparked complaints about animal welfare, but had also raised concerns about potential human health impacts. China, Taiwan, the EU and others had all raised concerns about the gaps in science backing the safety of the drug, which as been approved as safe by the FDA. Much of the available research used in international and US safety assessments was sponsored by Elanco, the drug company that makes ractopamine.
  • Playing With Fire

    For decades, manufacturers have packed the foam cushions inside sofas, loveseats and upholstered chairs in homes across America with toxic flame retardants. Companies did this even though research shows the chemicals – linked to cancer, developmental problems and impaired fertility – don’t slow fires and are migrating into the bodies of adults and children. That began to change in 2012 when the Chicago Tribune’s investigative series “Playing With Fire” exposed how the chemical and tobacco industries waged a deceptive, decades-long campaign to promote the use of flame retardant furniture and downplay the hazards. As a result of the series, historic reforms are underway, and flame retardants became one of the top public health issues of the year. The series sparked two U.S. Senate hearings and the Environmental Protection Agency began a broad investigation. Most importantly, California announced it would scrap the rule responsible for flame retardants’ presence in homes throughout the nation.
  • As City Plants Trees, Benefits—and Some Burdens—Grow

    New York City owns and maintains hundreds of thousands of trees. More than just a touch of nature in an urban landscape, they are a major tool in combating asthma, particularly in poorer sections. But they come at a price. With each major storm ravaging trees, the city faces millions of dollars in claims for property damage, some severe injuries and, on rare occasions, deaths, as limbs shear off and trees are uprooted. The prospects are the problem is only going to get worse. The city has quietly been slashing tree maintenance. The leading species of trees owned by the city is not even native to the area, but variety with a propensity for collapsing in heavy weather. By analyzing city tree databases, obtaining under open records laws records documenting storm damage, scouring budget records, and doing countless interviews, the students, in this unique story, documented the hidden cost of the city's trees, and the policy implications.
  • Injection Wells - The Hidden Risks of Pumping Waste Underground

    Over the last several decades, U.S. industries have dumped more than 30 trillion gallons of toxic waste – a volume roughly four times that of Utah’s Great Salt Lake -- into injection wells deep beneath the earth’s surface. These wells epitomize the notion of out of sight, out of mind, entombing chemicals too dangerous to discard in rivers or soil. The Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for overseeing this invisible disposal system, setting standards that, above all, are supposed to safeguard sources of drinking water at a time when water has become increasingly precious. Abrahm Lustgarten’s series, “Injection Wells: the Hidden Risks of Pumping Waste Underground,” lays out in frightening detail just how far short regulators have fallen in carrying out that mission. His analysis of hundreds of thousands of inspection records showed that wells often fail mechanical integrity tests meant to ensure contaminants aren’t leaking into water supplies and that companies repeatedly violate basic rules for safe disposal. EPA efforts to strengthen regulation of underground injection have been stymied time and again by the oil and gas industry, among the primary users of disposal wells. As the number of wells for drilling waste has grown to more than 150,000 nationwide, regulators haven’t kept pace, leaving gaps that have led to catastrophic breakdowns. And Lustgarten’s most surprising finding was that the EPA has knowingly permitted the energy industry to pollute underground reservoirs, handing out more than 1,500 “exemptions” allowing companies to inject waste and other chemicals into drinking water aquifers.
  • Semper Fi: Always Faithful

    Marine Corps Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger was a devoted marine for nearly 25 years. As a drill instructor, he lived and breathed the Marine Corps and was responsible for training thousands of new recruits. When Jerry’s nine-year-old daughter Janey died of a rare type of leukemia, his world collapsed. As a grief-stricken father, he struggled for years to make sense of what happened. His search for answers led to the shocking discovery of one of the largest water contamination sites in US history. For thirty years, unbeknownst to the Marines living there, the Marine Corps improperly disposed of toxic cleaning solvents that contaminated the drinking water at North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base. It is estimated that nearly one million Marines and their families may have been exposed to high levels of carcinogens through the water. 25 years after the wells were finally closed, only a fraction of former residents know about their exposure to the toxic chemicals. In the process of investigating the Camp Lejeune contamination, a larger issue comes into focus - the abysmal environmental record of the military. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Defense is the United States’ largest polluter, which raises grave questions about environmental conditions at other bases across the country. “Semper Fi: Always Faithful” is a timely and sobering story of the betrayal of US soldiers and is a call to action for more environmental oversight of military sites.