Chicago: the greenest city *snicker*

Based on the frequency of news coverage about polluted soil or buildings in Chicago, you might think there really isn’t much of that here. After all, only a single EPA National Priorities List site exists in Chicago. But it was tough to get listed because the city would rather not have those blemishes on its record.

And cleanups of pollution happen all the time, all over the city, as the map below shows when you zoom into Chicago. Have there have been any near your house or workplace in recent years? The key below explains the different colored pins.

BLUE: Federal CERCLA (“Superfund”) sites in Illinois that are on the National Priorities List. There is only one NPL site in Chicago, at Lake Calumet on the far south side. (Note: Except for the location of the Lake Calumet site, these pins are approximations based on the city associated with the listing.)

YELLOW: CERCLA cleanups that are NOT on the NPL, whose city is listed as “Chicago.” Exact addresses were used in this case. These cases, as you’ll read below, are interesting.

TURQUOISE: “Non-voluntary” (usually court-mandated) cleanups performed or supervised by Illinois EPA. Again, exact addresses used.

A few disclosures after the break…

Continue reading



The Lammers site pollution investigation has finally seen the light of day. Beavercreek is running it as a 3-part series on Thursdays, starting yesterday. Xenia, Fairborn and Bellbrook are running it as a 3-part series on Fridays starting today. Wilmington is running it as a 2-part series, today and Saturday.

(Since this post was first written, I have added links to the final parts in the series. Otherwise this post is unchanged.)

Part I and Part II made an appearance on the web for Xenia. Part III didn’t make it there for whatever reason. Here are Xenia’s PDFs of the story: Part I, Part II and Part III.

Wilmington didn’t place it online, but here are their two PDFs: Part I and Part II.

If you’re from a big paper, you might find it odd that I just give out the PDFs like that. Don’t worry — all these papers are owned by Brown Publishing, and they offer the PDFs for free to everyone, every morning on their websites.

I don’t think any of these papers ended up using my multimedia online, at least as of yet. But here are links to that stuff:

A video of the 1969 chemical fire narrated by a man who witnessed it. Maybe it impacted him, because he’s now Battalion Chief at Beavercreek Fire Department.

A slideshow of still photos showing what the site looks like now.

A TV-news style report that I produced for journalism class with the help of a talented videographer and editor friend, Chris Powers.

On an unrelated note, today is my 23rd birthday. Maybe that’s a good sign, since my first-place editorial was also published on a birthday — my 21st.

Best of Twitter 4: My own green thoughts

Flickr CC photo from Jim Linwood.

Flickr CC photo from Jim Linwood.

Blogging about Applied Sciences, Inc, the world’s third largest producer of carbon nanotubes – tech that could double the Volt car’s milage. 4:32 PM Feb 12th

If it’s true that the first passive solar building stateside will be in Yellow Springs (near here), I’m on it like weatherstripping. 8:51 AM Feb 19th

If we kept all compostables from landfills, they’d be smaller but have more concentrated toxicity. & do compostables help break down toxics? 3:46 PM Feb 21st

I’m passionate about the “triple bottom line,” AKA “People, planet, profit.” I love responsible companies. 10:57 AM Feb 25th

I literally just smuggled home glass bottles from my in-laws’ trash can in order to recycle them. My wife would be appalled: “Recycle Nazi!” 6:19 PM Mar 15th

I made a narrated slideshow about a company whose carbon nanofibers double the capacity of any li-ion battery. 2:01 PM Mar 26th (See next tweet, also)

Yes, that’s right – capacity doubled for electric cars, trains, laptops, everything. Don’t know why this hasn’t hit the NY Times front page. 2:04 PM Mar 26th

Which is greener to store and ship food: recyclable cans, recyclable glass jars (not reused), or non-recyclable Tetra Paks (trademark)? 5:15 PM Mar 26th

Are there Superfund sites near you? Could they still hurt you and yours? Find out: 11:39 PM Mar 28th

Looking for green organizations, whether media, literary, academic, causes, or products? Check out who I follow- I’ve tried to be selective. 1:15 PM Apr 2nd

Ever wondered what companies or gov’ts in your area have permits to pollute waterways? It’s as easy as a zip code: 39:33 PM Apr 4th

I had been thinking about switching to a straight razor because a single blade can last 7-10 years. Lotta waste saved! #ecomonday 10:08 AM May 4th

Green bloggers out there: plan to attend the Investigative Reporters and Editors ( conference next year. This year’s was rockin’. 10:59 AM Jun 16th

Toxics now, IRE conference later


Since right now I’m technically still on vacation, I’ll delay my stories about the IRE conference until Thursday or Friday when I get back to Ohio. Right now I’m in Boston seeing what there is to see, eating and drinking what there is to eat and drink, with a friend who just graduated from MIT.

But this morning I ended up making posts to Facebook and Twitter about a(n apparently) favorite subject of mine lately, toxics. Why not share with readers here, as well?

This is a thrilling find for me: The Toxic 100.

Compiled by investigators at a UMass think tank, the site provides raw and analyzed data from the EPA and can help you find whether your beloved hometown company is really a dirty scumbag.

Along the same lines, I encourage you to visit The Smokestack Effect, a USA Today report I learned of (at the IRE conference) by the project’s editor, Blake Morrison.

It overlays EPA data about toxic and carcinogenic air emissions with the locations of just about every school in the country — and you can add your own if you don’t see it on there. It ranks each of the 128,000 schools by percentile of how polluted the air is, around (and likely in) them.

The project got started when USA Today heard of a school closing in Cincinnati and obtained data from EPA to rank air quality in different areas around the country. Quickly the paper found that something like 435 schools actually had worse air quality than the one that closed in Cincy. Not many of those 435 have closed yet, and a large percentage of them are in low-income areas.

But if your child or small sibling attends a school in the top 20 percentiles, it’s generally harmful to health, said Morrison. Personally, I wouldn’t send my (future) children to a school in the top 30.

Last but not least, remember the Better World Shopper book that gave us information about products’ impacts on society and the environment? Now it’s hit Web 2.0.

I’ve been fascinated by bar-code scanning technology and its potential for us to retrieve information from the Internet about products — really about any object in the “real world.”

Now the concept behind the Better World Shopper (although not the same group) is fueling a living website called GoodGuide. According to this New York Times article, the site’s 3Gs iPhone (That is, the new iPhone model to be released Friday) application will be able to scan bar codes to get you info about products on the fly.

Talk about awesome. Think of the impact on society if we all shunned products that destroyed us and the Earth. As long as good investigative journalism is retained, compaies won’t be able to keep that stuff a secret in order to make windfall profits.

I had shied away from replacing my current phone with an iPhone out of distaste for consumerism. But if the iPhone itself battles unchecked consumerism in all other areas of my purchasing, doesn’t that justify it? Maybe. Short of Wendell Berry’s idea of a “local economy,” I think this is the best device yet for making the world a better place. Annie Leonard would be proud. (See her Story of Stuff here and on the left sidebar.)

Superfund multimedia extravaganza!

Or at least, that’s what I call my textual-visual-auditory, multi-platform news story about the nearest Superfund site to me, Lammers Barrel Factory.


The old (and toxic) "Lammers Barrel Factory" is next to a residential subdivision.

In case you didn’t get to see the TV news package a couple weeks ago, here it is again. (If the video’s still squished, pardon me. The fix is on the way.)

But now I have more for you. Much, much more.

I’ve written a web-magazine format story with all the juicy details I haven’t included elsewhere before.

Here’s a really cool feature: a video of the actual 1969 fire that released all the pollution. It was shot by a Beavercreek fireman with a Super 8 camera. Since the video itself didn’t have sound, music was inserted into the background when the footage was digitized a few years ago. Kip Smith, currently Battalion Chief with the Beavercreek Fire Department, was kind enough to narrate the 15-minute long video. (He was at the fire, too.)

Last but not least, you can view a slideshow of pictures I took about a month ago at the site itself. I know you’ll be curious about this place, so spare yourself from getting the cancer-causing chemicals on your shoes and look at the pictures I took.

TV news pollution report

I produced this TV news package for a newswriting class this semester. I’m currently working on a full-blown cross-platform version of this story. That’ll include a web (text) version as well as three radio stories, a slideshow, SMS updates, PDF copies of official documents, extended “directors cut” interviews and more.

Sadly, until I can render a version of the video above in a less-compressed format (I did it in AVI), it looks like Youtube will play it squished. Even though I followed all directions about aspect ratio, the site scrunches my video in from both sides, killing the native 16×9. I don’t like it as-is, but it’s still viewable until I have more time to re-render.

The “anchor” is played by my friend Chris P. Powers, and he also did all the Adobe Premiere work involved, plus the graphics. The research took a long while, but his work really makes it look professional. Thanks, Chris!