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Home > Publications > Quill > SDX Award Winner: Newsletter Journalism


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Monday, July 13, 2009
SDX Award Winner: Newsletter Journalism

Inside Washington Publishers

By Jim Poyser

Public Service in Newsletter Journalism

WINNER: INSIDE WASHINGTON PUBLISHERS

“EPA Rollback on Drinking Water Protections”

One of the untold stories of the Bush administration is its weakening of public health protections in the event of a nuclear attack. This series of exclusive articles uncovered and then detailed the potential impacts of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s plans to dramatically weaken its guidelines for protecting the public from contamination, and in particular radioactive contamination, in the event of an accident or attack.

Douglas P. Guarino, associate editor of Inside EPA’s “Superfund Report,” obtained an internal draft, through anonymous sources, of the EPA’s guide “Protective Action Guidance for Nuclear Incidents.” His initial analysis showed that the document suggested that emergency response officials needn’t provide residents in an area affected by a nuclear “incident” with alternative sources of drinking water until the concentration of radioactive materials reached levels thousands of times higher than those considered safe under EPA’s traditional regulations.

Guarino’s additional research and analysis discovered that the EPA already had emergency response guidelines for providing alternative drinking water supplies at sites contaminated by radioactive materials. Those guidelines, while less stringent, were still thousands of times more protective than those suggested in the new draft document.

In addition, Guarino learned that the “EPA was also secretly relaxing its standards for when emergency responders should take action at sites where drinking water is contaminated by a host of ‘non-nuclear’ substances, including industrial chemicals, pesticides and other toxic substances ...”

And in a break from the agency’s past practice, EPA was keeping these weaker standards and the rationale for them hidden from the public.

Judges said his series of articles “gave strong argument to protect the public and prompted a coalition of more than 60 environmental and public health groups to lobby the EPA to abandon the draft document — and it motivated the newly installed Obama administration to halt publication of the document just days before its scheduled release.”

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