Every few days, a piece of journalism comes along that reminds us of what is possible when a newspaper or other news organization is willing and able to devote a significant amount of time, money and effort to an important public policy issue.
That’s been the case in recent days with The Washington Post’s two-year effort on the growth of Top Secret America, with The New York Times’ investigation of BP’s history of cutting corners, and now with The News Journal’s year-long investigation of chemical contamination, some of it dating back decades, that is insidiously threatening the aquifer that provides drinking water to much of Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey.
The multi-part, two-day series that began Sunday (July 25), accompanied by an array of interactive elements and graphics on-line, reveals dramatically that polluters and government agencies made a serious mistake when they assumed that layers of impermeable clay below ground would prevent spilled and dumped toxins from leaching into these deep aquifers far below.
As the series’ opening piece puts it:
Northern Delaware is home to some of the worst chemical dumping grounds in America, a legacy of broken promises and corporate misdeeds. Regulators working for Delaware and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have long claimed that the deep clay layers above the aquifer protected it from the foul waters discharged by chemical and petroleum manufacturers.
Those assurances have proved false.
The protective layer over the aquifer, scientists now say, is full of holes.
It’s worrisome that in our rapidly shifting media landscape fewer and fewer news outlets have the ability and will to set a reporter to work for a year on a project of this scope, but encouraging that the 116,000-circulation News Journal could and did pull it off.
EWG offers its kudos to reporter Jeff Montgomery and to The News Journal’s editors and publisher.