Finding Necessary Evidence to Back Up a Tip

Streater, Scott
March 2005
Nieman Reports;Spring2005, Vol. 59 Issue 1, p20
This article presents a narrative of how the author followed a tip from a high-profile lawyer named Mine Papantonio through a year and a half of intense research to produce a three-day series about how the public's drinking water in Pensacola, Florida, became polluted with radium. The public utility responsible for ensuring safe drinking water in Pensacola knew for years that radioactive waste had polluted several wells and that thousands of people had been drinking this contaminated water. And the utility's leaders conspired to misinform the public and thwart efforts by state environmental regulators to force the utility to rid the water of this pollutant. As a result, high levels of radium 226/228 from a massive underground plume of toxic chemicals from a nearby Superfund hazardous-waste site were continuing to contaminate the water and exposing residents to high levels of radium--a known human carcinogen linked to bone and nasal cancer. This article begins by relating the author's reaction to the tip he received from Papantonio. Next, he describes his efforts to search for well-documented evidence to be able to publish the story. The last part presents the author's findings and the action taken by the State Attorney's Office in response to the findings.


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