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Pulliam Fellowship supports editorial investigation into crumbling homes in Connecticut, Canada, Ireland


Matthew Kent, SPJ Program Coordinator, 317-920-4788,
Zoë Berg, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317-920-4785,

INDIANAPOLIS – “This isn’t the kind of disaster that flattens a house in a hurricane. This is more of a slow-moving underground hurricane,” Carolyn Lumsden wrote in an editorial for the Hartford Courant about homeowners receiving help for their crumbling foundations.

Through the support of a $75,000 Pulliam Fellowship from the Society of Professional Journalists Foundation, the educational foundation of the Society of Professional Journalists, Lumsden wrote a series of more than a dozen op-eds and editorials about an epidemic of crumbling homes in Connecticut, Canada and Ireland. Houses in all three countries have shown serious cracking because of under-regulated minerals from local quarries.

Lumsden’s work on crumbling foundations began in 2017 when she wrote a four-part editorial series called “Failing Concrete,” on the dangerous effects of pyrrhotite, a mineral weakening foundations in Connecticut. With the funding from the SPJ Foundation, Lumsden was able to continue her work and explore similar issues happening in Canada and Ireland.

“The Pulliam Fellowship allowed me to travel to these places and talk with dozens of engineers, lawmakers, lawyers, journalists and homeowners,” Lumsden said.

Lumsden’s editorials were published by the Hartford Courant from October 2018 to July 2019. Columns and other content Lumsden wrote on crumbling homes include:
Editorial: Help Is Coming For Crumbling Foundations, No Thanks To Feds And Insurers
Editorial: To Halt Connecticut's Pyrrhotite Plague, Follow Europe's Lead
Editorial: Why shut these crumbling condos out of state repair funds?
Editorial: Travelers to the rescue of homeowners with crumbling foundations
Editorial: Lessons from Canada on the pyrrhotite plague
By the numbers: Comparing Canada and Connecticut’s pyrrhotite problems
Editorial: Crumbing concrete foundations in Canada were quickly replaced. Why not here?
Fixing crumbling foundations: More lessons from Canada
What Connecticut Can Learn From Ireland’s Housing Disaster
How Ireland protects homeowners with cracking concrete
Housing TIPS from Ireland
3 ways to keep the concrete plague from spreading
Editorial: Compassionate Legislators Help With Crumbling Foundations
Under foot but out of mind Why Connecticut needs to pay more attention to its geology
How two women got Ireland to fix crumbling homes
Editorial: Prepare for the next wave of crumbling foundations

Along with the extensive writing on the subject, Lumsden helped to organize a symposium of three citizen coalitions on the issue of crumbling concrete, spoke to the Construction Bar of Ireland about the issue and discussed pyrrhotite on Connecticut’s public radio station WNPR.

“I hope my writing and talks serve as a warning to governments to take greater care with construction,” Lumsden said. “Connecticut has far more stringent regulations for sulfides in wine than for sulfites in concrete. Those sulfites have undermined homes, devastated families and strained towns reeling from taxes lost to foreclosures and reassessments.”

Lumsden, who was the opinion editor at the Hartford Courant, is the 2018 recipient of the Fellowship. The Fellowship awards $75,000 to an outstanding editorial writer or columnist to help broaden his or her journalistic horizons and knowledge of the world. The annual award can be used to cover the cost of study, research and/or travel in any field. The Fellowship results in editorials and other writings, including books.

Since the publication of her work, Lumsden has retired from The Courant, but she continues to focus on the issue. Lumsden attends meetings of the quarry working group at the state capitol. The group is made up of lawmakers, homeowners and industry representatives trying to come up with reasonable regulations to prevent more heartache from the crumbling foundations.

Rochelle Riley, a columnist for the Detroit Free Press, received the 2017 Pulliam Editorial Fellowship and studied the effect of trauma and a toxic environment on children’s learning. Tim Steller, metro columnist for the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, Arizona, is the 2019 recipient and is studying ways in which public opinion regarding the border and immigration policy are manipulated.

Deadline for entrants for the 2020 Pulliam Fellowship is June 20.

The Society of Professional Journalists Foundation is a public foundation dedicated to ensuring that those who carry on the tradition of a free press are prepared for the challenge. The SPJ Foundation supports educational and professional needs of journalists and journalism students. Support excellent journalism and fight for your right to know. Give to the Society of Professional Journalists Foundation.


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