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 [email protected] where a researcher can help you pinpoint what you need.

Search results for "toxic" ...

  • Merchants of Meth

    I exposed a concerted and well-funded campaign by the country’s leading pharmaceutical companies to defeat bills in Congress and state legislatures that were aimed at stopping the spread of toxic methamphetamine labs. At issue? Pseudoephedrine sales. The popular decongestant is the one key ingredient needed to make homemade meth. It also generates revenue for major pharmaceutical firms such as Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Merck of more than $600 million a year. Fuelled by easy access to pseudoephedrine, the number of meth labs in the United States has increased by more than 60 percent since 2007. Thanks in large part to pharmaceutical industry lobbying, there has been no federal legislation to address the spread of meth labs since 2005. In 2006, Oregon successfully moved to restrict meth cooks’ access to pseudoephedrine by making it a prescription drug, despite heavy lobbying against the bill from the pharmaceutical industry. Since then, the number of meth labs in the state has fallen drastically—by more than 90 percent. Faced with the mounting social, law enforcement, and environmental costs associated with meth, legislators in at least 25 other states sought to pass similar laws. But pharmaceutical lobbyists fought back, and in all but one state—Mississippi—the bills were defeated. My reporting examined how the industry has set state lobbying spending records as it has deployed a new kind of lobbying strategy to block regulation of pseudoephedrine. Instead of focusing their efforts on courting politicians, they have taken their message directly to voters, deploying thousands of robocalls in key electoral districts and large ad buys in major media markets for advertising across multiple platforms from radio to the Internet. Their messaging, I found, was deceptive, failing to even mention that the proposed bills had to do with combatting the meth epidemic. I also examined the results of an electronic pseudoephedrine sales tracking database known as NPLEx, which is meant to prevent excessive purchasing. While it’s the only reform to ever earn backing from the pharmaceutical industry, I found a system full of holes that has been ineffective at preventing the spread of meth labs in virtually every state that has adopted it.
  • The Untouchables

    In the aftermath of the financial crisis, Americans demanded to know why no Wall Street banks or senior executives had faced criminal charges. Critics questioned whether, in the midst of a painful recovery, Wall Street was simply “too big to jail.” With the five-year statute of limitations approaching, FRONTLINE producer Martin Smith sought answers to these questions in the film The Untouchables: an investigation into whether the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) failed to act on evidence that Wall Street knowingly originated, packaged and sold toxic home loans that poisoned the global economy.
  • Toxic Clout

    In "Toxic Clout," the Center for Public Integrity unmasked the deep, sometimes hidden, connections entangling the chemical industry, scientists and regulators, revealing the industry’s sway and the public’s peril.
  • License to Swill

    The Better Government Association and NBC 5 found that numerous Illinois police and fire labor contracts allow police officers and firefighters to arrive at work with a blood-alcohol level up to and including 0.079 – just below 0.08, at which drivers are legally considered intoxicated in Illinois. Turns out such contract language is, in many cases, decades-old and carried from one labor agreement to the next with little thought. The hazards of first responders being allowed to work “buzzed” is obvious: They deal with life-and-death decisions – whether in burning buildings or while pointing guns at suspects – that demand good decision-making and proper reaction times that alcohol can compromise. Our story came on the heels of the City of Chicago approving a $4.1 million settlement to the family of an unarmed man fatally shot by an on-duty Chicago cop who had been drinking alcohol prior to his shift.
  • Failures in the Golden State

    The Department of Toxic Substances Control oversees or has some part in regulating everything from nail polish ingredients to oil refineries, radioactive waste to metal recycling in California. At the heart of our series is the story of a department that’s divided, dysfunctional, and ineffective in fulfilling its mission to protect public health and the environment of the Golden State. We sifted through hundreds of pages of reports, memos, reviews, manifests and legal claims. We also analyzed thousands of records in the department’s hazardous waste tracking system to find out that more than 40% of the hazardous waste manifests in the DTSC’s database contain inaccurate information or are missing key details. Our reporting has held leaders accountable at the DTSC and compelled state lawmakers to call for an investigation of the department, including a legislative hearing this month (January 2014). Through a series of public records requests, we found out some of the department’s top leaders were investing in companies the DTSC oversees. Our reporting into the potential financial conflicts of interest prompted an investigation into deputy director Odette Madriago by the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). Ms. Madriago resigned from her position six weeks after our report aired. The FPPC investigation remains ongoing.
  • Hanford's Dirty Secrets

    “Hanford’s Dirty Secrets” exposed mismanagement, wasted tax dollars and a cover-up by government officials and private contractors at the country’s most contaminated site -- the Hanford Nuclear Reservation located in Washington state -- where the most complex environmental cleanup effort in human history is underway. The liquid and solid waste housed at Hanford is dangerously radioactive and toxic, and any leak has the potential to pose serious threats to human and environmental health throughout the Pacific Northwest. The federal government produced plutonium at Hanford for the nuclear bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan and for the U.S. nuclear arsenal throughout the Cold War. This production left behind millions of gallons of cancer-causing nuclear byproducts, much of which remains stored in aging underground tanks at Hanford. KING’s reporting showed that the government contractor in charge of the tanks ignored signs of leaking nuclear waste for nearly a year while the company collected millions in bonus money from the Dept. of Energy for its "very successful" stewardship of the waste holding tanks. In addition, we revealed that during the year the contractor failed to address the leak, the company wasted millions of taxpayer funds on a project rendered useless by the very fact that the tank was leaking
  • As OSHA Emphasizes Safety, Long-Term Health Risks Fester

    For years, Sheri Farley worked in a cushion-making factory. Spray-gun in hand, she stood enveloped in a yellowish fog, breathing glue fumes that ate away at her nerve endings. “Dead foot” set in. She walked with a limp, then a cane, then she didn't walk much at all. “Part of the job,” was the shrugging response from her managers. This article was the first to reveal how the furniture industry used a dangerous chemical called nPB despite urgent warnings from the companies that manufactured it. The story also described egregious behavior by a small cushion-making company in North Carolina called Royale Comfort Seating, where Ms. Farley worked. The piece spotlighted the consequences of OSHA's failure to police long-term health risks and how efforts to control one chemical left workers exposed to something worse. Workplace illnesses like Ms. Farley's affect more than 200,000 Americans per year and cost our economy more than $250 billion annually. The agency responsible for ensuring that Americans can breathe clean air on the job focuses primarily on deadly accidents. But ten times as many people die from inhaling toxic substances at work.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.