Resource Center

Covering the environment

This story pack offers great tipsheets, stories, and databases for anyone covering the environment. Tipsheets include how to pitch your story, where to find information beyond advocacy groups, and helpful websites to use when requesting records. Stories include investigations into businesses claiming to be "green", schools with lead in the drinking water, the award winning report on the global asbestos trade, and many more. 

Related Tipsheets

  • Environment
    Morrison discusses how to do a meaningful story on the environment - beginning with pitching a story "with a clear question whose answer is newsworthy." He discusses the use of data in doing the story, and how to validate your findings.

  • Understanding EPA
    Sullivan discusses how to bring yourself up to speed on the topic of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Sullivan explains how committed efforts to understand the agency pay-off in terms of having a working knowledge of the subject of your investigation.

  • Tapping Research to Investigate Science
    This PowerPoint presentation recounts the steps taken by AP to reoprt their Pharmawater series about drugs in drinking water. The tipsheet reviews the story and discusses how the authors went about a literature review and creating original surveys to fill in gaps in the data.

  • CAR and the Environment
    Ward offers tips on environmental reporting, inculding where to find information beyond advocacy groups.

  • Investigating Environmental Regulatory Agencies
    Scott Streater provides tips for reporters who are working on environmental investigations. He explains how to find sources, get data and know open record laws. Streater also gives a list of helpful Web sites for reporters who are requesting records.

  • Digging into the environment
    Waite advises on how to use and manage data for environmental investigations, which is a crucial task because the environmental beat is awash in data more so than any other beat. Includes Waite's PowerPoint presentation from his presentation at the 2006 IRE Conference and suggestions for preserving and reusing data for future stories.

  • Digging up dirt: Investigating American companies' environmental impacts in Latin America
    En espanol, tipsheet 2919. This tipsheet describes two instances of North American corporations taking advantage of Latin America's weak environmental laws and need for foreign investors. In these Peruvian cases, U.S. firms contaminated local communities with mercury and lead. The tipsheet suggests several ways to get started investigating American companies that do a lot of business extracting natural resources in Latin America. For instance, the tipsheet suggests visiting the websites of major environmental organizations, using international audits, and talking to EPA officials to find context for the incidents being investigated.

Related Stories

  • The Climate Desk
    The series examines whether or not businesses are adapting and adjusting to climate change. It found that some are actively looking for ways make a profit from the changes that need to be made. Others, however, have not yet started making changes even when they are directly affected.

  • Grounds for Removal
    The four-year investigation detailed the government oversight of the nation's largest statewide natural gas pipeline system. Regulators rarely gave penalties, even in cases of fatal gas explosions.

  • Looting the Seas: How Overfishing, Fraud and Negligence Plundered the Majestic Bluefin Tuna
    "A groundbreaking, multimedia expose on the $4 billion black market in bluefin tuna, the world's most coveted source of sushi." From professional fisheries to tuna farms in the Mediterranean and N. Africa, the business was "riddled with fraud, negligence, and criminal misconduct."

  • BP's Oil Spill: Beyond the Spin
    This series provides extensive coverage of the Gulf oil spill and its effects. It exposes BP's failures to measure the amount of oil spilled and the reasons for the disaster. It also uncovers the Obama administration's inability to asses damage.

  • Dangers in the Dust: Inside the Global Asbestos Trade
    The global investigation finds that a network of industry groups spent nearly $100 million in public and private money to keep asbestos on the market. The disease-causing fiber is creating epidemics in countries such as China and India and it is estimated it will lead to the deaths of five to ten million people by 2030.

  • School Poison: Lead in Drinking Water
    WBNS-TV exposed the unhealthy levels of lead in the drinking water at several public schools and revealed the breakdowns in the state government system that is supposed to monitor the water's quality.

Related Databases

  • FDA Adverse Events Reporting System

    The FDA relies on the Adverse Event Reporting system to flag safety issues and identify pharmaceuticals or therapeutic biological products (such as blood products), for further epidemiological study. It may ultimately prompt regulatory responses such as drug labeling changes, letters to health care professionals, or market withdrawals.
    The agency requires product manufacturers and distributors to report adverse events regularly in accordance with 21 CFR 310.305 and 314.80. Mandatory reports for drugs in clinical trials and newly marketed drugs are submitted in various forms: 15-day alerts, quarterly or annual updates. The MedWatch program also collects voluntary reports from health care professionals and consumers. Adverse drug experiences include any serious and unexpected consequences of human drug use in a medical practice - such as failure of "expected pharmacological action," as well as accidental or intentional overdoses or abuse.

    AERS replaced the Spontaneous Reporting System in October 1997. The FDA estimates that 118 reports for 1997-98 are included in the old SRS data. The AERS collection begins with the fourth quarter of 1997 and is complete through December 2006. Emphasis on reporting and efficiency of collecting reports have fluctuated, as seen by the relatively small number of records for the earlier years in this dataset and the incomplete entries throughout.

    The AERS format attempts to improve and standardize the same basic information fields collected in SRS. The most notable difference between the two sets is a Comments table containing detailed memo fields; it only exists for SRS data 1993-1998.

  • Hazardous Materials

    The HAZMAT database contains the incident reports of unintentional releases of hazardous materials for all modes of transportation (air, highway, railway, and water). The Hazardous Materials Incident Report Subsystem is maintained by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in the Department of Transportation.

    The Hazardous Materials Incident Reports were established in 1971 to fulfil the requirements of the Federal hazardous materials transportation law. Part 171 of Title 49, Code of Federal Regulations, contains the incident reporting requirements for carriers of hazardous materials. An unintentional release of hazardous materials meeting the criteria set forth in Section 171.16, 49 CFR, must be reported.

    You can access and download the data (as a CSV) on the PHMSA website here: Note that the default option is to only export the most requested fields, but you can also export all of the fields. 

  • Nuclear Material Events Database (NMED)

    The Nuclear Materials Events Database contains records of all non-commercial power reactor incidents and events, including medical events, involving the use of radioactive byproduct material. Regulated licensees and Agreement States report the information to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.Included in this data is the basic record of each event, records of abnormal occurrences (event that could be a risk to the public), information about the radioactive material involved, type of the event, etc.

    There are nine categories of events, as well as one "other" category that serves as a catch-all. The category/event types are: Equipment problems involving licensed material; overexposures to licensed material; fuel cycle facility events; loss of control events; leaking sealed sources involving licensed material; medical events involving licensed material; non-power reactor events; release or contamination events involving licensed material; and transportation events.

    The database has 12 relational tables with entries from 1990 through March 18, 2011. Some events occurring before 1990 appear in this data, but the most consistent reporting is for records from 1990 and later.

  • Toxics Release Inventory

    The Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) consists of information about on- and off-site releases of chemicals and other waste management activities reported annually by industries, including federal facilities.

    The data includes information on reporting facility, toxic chemical identity, waste treatment and recycling activities.

    The fields identify facilities, chemicals manufactured, processed, recycled and disposed of. The location fields give facility sites and which release activities are used in communities. Facilities and sites can be mapped using the fields MAPLONG and MAPLAT. The data shows what happens to the chemical when it leaves the facility, such as whether it is recycled, treated or released into the environment, and where the chemicals are sent. There is also information on one-time accidental releases.

    Industries included are manufacturing, metal mining, coal mining, coal and oil burning electrical utilities, hazardous waste treatment and disposal facilities, chemical distributors, petroleum bulk plants terminals, and solvent recycling operations. There are now about 650 toxic chemicals and toxic chemical categories on the list of chemicals that were required to be reported.

    Although you can download this data for free off the EPA's Web site, NICAR data analysts have done a significant amount of cleaning to make this data easier to use immediately. Fields containing standard date formats, mappable latitude and longitude have been added, and the unique id field, TRIFID, has been altered to make it compatable with past years.