Center collaboration on air pollutants in the Texas Eagle Ford Shale wins health prize

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Lynn Buehring in her Karnes City, Texas home, shows the mask and medicine mist that she relies on for breathing.

Lance Rosenfield/Prime

A Center for Public Integrity collaboration with InsideClimate News and The Weather Channel exploring the toxic air emissions in the Eagle Ford Shale region of South Texas has been awarded first place in the Association of Health Care Journalists Investigative (Large) category.

The Big Oil, Bad Air series focused on the epicenter of the nation’s hydraulic fracturing - fracking - boom. Drilling in the Eagle Ford Shale has generated billions of dollars for oil companies but also air pollution that threatens public health.

The series found that residents in drilling areas blame these emissions for making them sick, and that industry-friendly state regulators offer little help. It showed how Texas has weakened air pollution guidelines to industry’s benefit. Texas eventually installed a new air monitor in the heart of the Eagle Ford Shale after the series revealed the scope and seriousness of residents’ complaints.

“Big Oil, Bad Air” was the product of a three-way, 20-month investigative reporting partnership with InsideClimate News and The Weather Channel. AHCJ judges said the series stood out for its “penetrating reporting, eloquent writing and disturbing findings.” They noted that while much reporting has focused on contaminated drinking water caused by fracking, “This series focused instead on airborne pollutants that have harmed the health and destroyed the wellbeing of rural families in the vast Eagle Ford region of Texas.”

The AHCJ awards recognize the best health reporting across eleven categories. This was the 11th contest with more than 420 entries that were screened and judged by more than 50 working journalists or journalism professors.

The AHCJ launched the awards program amid growing concern that too many journalism awards are sponsored by special interest groups that seek to sway media coverage. No health care companies or agencies fund the program.

Second place in the investigative (large) category went to the KMSP-Minneapolis/St. Paul (TV) investigation into coercion affecting psychiatric drug trials and patients at the University of Minnesota, and third-place winner The Chicago Tribune for their work on taxpayer-funded residential treatment centers for disadvantaged children.

A second Center series focused on health care, Medicare Advantage Money Grab, also won second place in the Business (Large) category. The same series also won this year’s Philip Meyer award.

The awards will be presented on April 25 in Santa Clara, California during the association’s annual conference, Health Journalism 2015.

Congratulations to all the winners; see the full announcement and other categories here.

Follow @Publici@InsideClimate and @WeatherChannel on Twitter.

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