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Impact Award Finalist Winner

“Sacrifice Zones: Mapping Cancer-Causing Industrial Air Pollution”

Excellence in Environmental Reporting, honoring Edward W. “Ted” Scripps II

ProPublica, The Texas Tribune, Mountain State Spotlight, 2022

Author(s): Staff | ProPublica, Staff | The Texas Tribune, Staff | Mountain State Spotlight


In an unprecedented data-driven project, ProPublica, The Texas Tribune and the Mountain State Spotlight collaborated to develop and report on a powerful tool that residents in industrial neighborhoods across the U.S. can use to determine just how bad their industrial neighbors are polluting the air.

Using EPA data, ProPublica built a first-of-its-kind interactive map that lets people know how toxic their air is. By plugging in an address, neighborhood residents can learn what hazardous chemicals the air contains, what the cancer risk is, and which neighboring corporate polluters are to blame. ProPublica activated the EPA’s data in a way that even the agency had never done.

The extraordinary data analysis countered years of assurances from environmental regulators and corporate spokespeople that the air being emitted into nearby neighborhoods was safe to breathe.

The collaborative project identified 1,000 “Sacrifice Zones” — areas of toxic air pollution where residential communities bear disproportionate health risk in exchange for the economic development ambitions of state officials and the demand from all of us for affordable consumer goods. Notably, the project showed the cancer risk for predominantly Black “Sacrifice Zone” communities is more than double that of majority-white communities. Overall, the project concluded the cancer risk for more than a fifth of the nation’s population has been elevated by institutional tolerance for “Sacrifice Zones.”

More than 60 local TV stations and 16 local newspapers have shared stories based on the data analysis. Empowered with the truth about their neighborhoods, concerned residents have circulated petitions and packed town halls. The most important outcome will be in the lives the project will save.

Honoring Edward W. “Ted” Scripps II
Headshot photo of a man wearing a white button-up shirt, a black suit jacket, and a red and blue tie

For the first time, Excellence in Environmental Reporting is named in honor of Edward W. “Ted” Scripps II. Early in his career, Ted worked as a reporter for United Press and Scripps Howard newspapers in Denver and San Francisco. Ted also served as a vice president and secretary of The E.W. Scripps Company. He was a conservationist with interests in environmental issues and changing technologies in the communications industry.