USA Today Investigates ‘Lead in Your Water’

Across the Gannett chain Sunday, Laura Ungar's investigation was front-page news.

In the shadow of the Flint, Mich. water scandal, USA Today national and regional enterprise health reporter Laura Ungar has shared more sobering news. Hundreds of schools and daycare facilities across the U.S. have failed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lead-in-water tests between 2012 and 2015; she also surmises that many more schools not required to submit to testing because they rely on a municipally regulated water source may nevertheless be exceeding acceptable levels due to decaying infrastructure.

Ungar has been busy these past few days talking about her findings on SiriusXM, Al Jazeera English and Maine Public Radio. On Sunday, various Gannett newspapers heralded her USA Today Network investigation, together with locally focused stories about their respective area’s water supply.

The design team at the Leaf-Chronicle in Clarksville, Tenn. came up with the weekend’s most creative front-page headline treatment (above). Meanwhile, Ungar’s sifting of EPA test data has put the screws on various officials and districts:

The 5,500-student Ithaca City School District is located in a small city that also is home to Cornell University and Ithaca College. Two district schools, Caroline and Enfield elementaries, run their own water systems and are required to test for lead, while the other 10 are not because they are connected to municipal water.

A total of four samples from Caroline and Enfield tested above the EPA action level in August and two in follow-up tests in January, according to fact sheets from the county health department. Even though the first test results came back in September, parents didn’t learn of the problem until February despite requirements to notify the public within 30 days.

Superintendent Luvelle Brown blames “internal and external communication problems” but wouldn’t elaborate except to say personnel issues were involved. He said he wasn’t told about results of the August tests until months afterward and shared them days after he learned them — adding he understands the gravity of the issue, since “my child drinks out of the faucets every day.”

Ungar is based in Louisville, where she also writes for the Courier-Journal. Her piece and the correlated regional coverage by other Gannett newspapers is the latest in a recent string of highly impressive investigations by the chain.

Previously on FishbowlNY:
Gannett Launches ‘USA Today Network’ Brand
Gannett Investigates the Global Groundwater Crisis

Image via: theleafchronicle.com