Changes at InvestigateWest

InvestigateWest is announcing some exciting new changes!With the departure next month of Executive Director and Editor Rita Hibbard, the InvestigateWest board is pleased to announce the Robert McClure, a co-founder as well as an award-winning environmental journalist, is succeeding Hibbard as acting Executive Director.At the same time, Carol Smith, a co-founder and acclaimed social issues and health journalist, is moving into the role of acting Executive Editor.“Robert will guide a growing, stable and exciting news organization into its next phase,” said Hibbard, who is leaving to pursue other projects long put on hold by the demands of a thriving nonprofit newsroom. “As a co-founder, he profoundly understands the importance of what we do, and is in a great position to push it forward.”InvestigateWest is an independent, nonprofit investigative news organization founded in 2009 and based in Seattle. It is staffed by journalists with a track record of producing in-depth stories that produce change in public policy and practice.  It has received funding from both national and regional foundations.InvestigateWest’s work resulted in three laws passed by the state Legislature in 2011, including two establishing worker safety and health rules after the publication of a story linking exposure of chemotherapy drugs to illness and death among health care workers, and another banning carcinogenic pavement sealant after InvestigateWest wrote about their widespread use. “Carol also will bring her investigative and narrative skills to the fore in her new role,” said Hibbard, who has been at the helm since InvestigateWest’s launch. “She’s a wonderful writer and journalist who will contribute hugely to the new organizational structure.”

InvestigateWest and KCTS 9 co-produce “Breathing Uneasy,” a look at the air pollution crisis in South Seattle

“Breathing Uneasy” is the result of a collaboration between InvestigateWest and KCTS 9. Veteran environmental reporters Robert McClure of InvestigateWest and Jenny Cunningham of KCTS 9 spent six months examining the impact of truck traffic on the communities that border the Port of Seattle, an area that new studies say has some of the worst air in the state. Their stories detail how toxic emissions from diesel trucks endanger residents of some of Seattle’s poorest communities, but also contain lessons and implications for any area dealing with major roadway traffic near schools and residential neighborhoods.In addition, McClure and Cunningham examine how Port of Seattle Chief Executive Officer Tay Yoshitani helped oppose changes in legislation that would have made trucks cleaner, despite his promise to make Seattle the “cleanest, greenest, most energy-efficient port in the U.S.”A special report on air pollution, co-produced by InvestigateWest and KCTS 9,  will air on KCTS Connects Friday, June 17 at 7 p.m. Click here to view the video.To read the stories on Crosscut, click here.  And you can listen to Robert McClure discuss the issue with Ross Reynolds on The Conversation during the noon hour Tuesday, June 14 on KUOW 94.9 FM.

The power of regional investigative reporting

We have good news about the news business to share. Our work makes a difference! InvestigateWest’s groundbreaking story on the hazards of chemotherapy exposure for health care workers has resulted in the passage of two laws improving worker safety in Washington state, signed by Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire in April. One of the laws establishes an occupational cancer registry in the state, and the other regulates better regulates toxic compounds, including chemo drugs, in the workplace. That story first appeared on our web site, on msnbc.com, The Seattle Times and in a documentary we co-produced with KCTS 9. In addition, a measure banning toxic pavement sealants also was signed into law by the governor. That effort came after InvestigateWest  wrote about the issue just over a year ago. With the governor’s signature, Washington state became the first state in the nation to ban the sealants, joining a handful of smaller governments across the nation that have taken similar steps. That work appeared on our web site and on msnbc.com.

College announces changes in sexual assault policies

The sexual assault expert hired by Reed College last year has submitted his resignation with the elite private college still embroiled in turmoil over its sexual assault policies, a set of disciplinary procedures that the college itself recently determined were partially out of compliance with federal law.With Reed faculty joining their voices to a mounting student campaign for change, the college has already made changes in its polices to meet federal legal requirements. Kevin Myers, director of strategic communications for Reed, said additional policy changes are on the way. Some of those changes were announced to students Wednesday.The sometimes fierce debate on campus has caused clashes between students and administrators, provoked alumni, spurred graffiti and flyers on campus, and prompted guerilla theater in the college dining room. Though the college hired a sexual assault expert last year, in part to help navigate reforms underway since August 31, the expert, Pete Meagher, has told the college he is leaving May 31, with changes still pending.Fifty-eight percent of Reed College students signed a petition urging policy reform, presented to the college president, board of trustees and faculty and student governments April 22. Faculty also submitted a petition, saying the college may be inadvertently harming sexual assault victims through its policies, and some student victims and advocates think Reed is violating federal law.

Ballard rain gardens: a green solution gone wrong

When Seattle was planning its first extreme-green makeover of a city block, residents competed for the honor. And in 1999, the winning street in the Broadview neighborhood got a gorgeous facelift complete with new sidewalks and verdant roadside rain gardens with shrubs and grasses.But when the city recently tried going green in the Ballard neighborhood, homeowners there felt like they got stuck with the booby prize.The rain gardens installed by the city last summer and fall haven’t worked as planned. The gardens, which look sort of like shallow, sparsely-planted ditches running between the road and sidewalk, fill with water – and stay filled up. Some of the rain gardens drain over the course of hours or days, but some become mini ponds until the city comes to pump out the water.Many of the residents are not pleased. They worry that the swamped gardens are a drowning hazard for young children, a breeding ground for mosquitoes, and will lower their property values. There’s even a neighborhood blog calling for their removal. “We feel badly,” said Nancy Ahern, deputy director for utility-systems managementfor Seattle Public Utilities, the department that installed the rain gardens. “It’s been hard on this community.”

Research points way to sustainable solutions

When you mention Puyallup to most Northwesterners, the city’s fall fair is the image most likely brought to mind. But this suburb of Tacoma is also home to a research center that’s on the leading edge of technology used to cleanup and curb toxic stormwater runoff.Nationwide, cities and counties are spending billions of dollars trying to reduce the amount of polluted runoff that fouls lakes and bays, floods homes and businesses, and triggers erosion. The rainwater gushes across from highways, streets, parking lots, roof tops, lawns and farms, scooping up oil and grease, pesticides, metals and other toxic chemicals as it goes.This spring, the Washington State University’s Puyallup Low Impact Development Research Program is launching projects that scientists hope will help slow that flow of water and treat the pollutants.The WSU researchers are testing “green” solutions for stormwater runoff, including rain gardens and porous pavement. There’s a huge demand for more information about how to maximize the use of these natural strategies.“Our goal is to help get this stuff on the ground as fast as possible and operating as well as it can,” said Curtis Hinman, director of WSU’s Puyallup program, of the green technologies.Seattle, Portland, Bremerton, Lacey and Spokane are among the numerous cities installing natural stormwater solutions, which are also known as low-impact development or LID. For the most part, they’ve performed well, reducing and cleaning up runoff.But as was recently demonstrated in Seattle when city-built rain gardens in the Ballard neighborhood turned into muddy messes, there’s a pressing need for more data on how these systems work.

InvestigateWest’s reporting fuels two worker safety bills to be signed by governor Wednesday

Gov. Chris Gregoire is expected to sign two bills Wednesday  that will help protect healthcare workers from dangerous drug exposures, making Washington the first state in the country to have enforceable safe-handling standards.The lawmaking has gotten the attention of the federal government as well, which this week issued a letter to healthcare workplaces, advising them to update their safety practices. The letter, signed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and The Joint Commission (the national hospital accreditation agency), highlighted the potential for serious adverse occupational health effects.“This is a victory,” said Dr. Melissa McDiarmid, Director of the Occupational Health Program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, whose research has shown chromosomal damage in workers who handle chemotherapy.Both bills, which passed unanimously through the House and Senate, were sparked by InvestigateWest’s reporting on hazardous drug handling practices, which showed that lack of workplace regulation was resulting in workplace contamination and worker exposures. Such exposures can result in irreversible effects that include cancer, reproductive harm and developmental problems.SB 5594, sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, requires the state to regulate chemotherapy and other hazardous drugs by creating a safe-handling standard for healthcare workplaces. “It is unacceptable that health-care workers risk exposure to deadly chemicals on a daily basis while on the job.  This measure could literally save lives by requiring the development of workplace safety standards for these professionals,” Kohl-Welles said.

Intern reporter confronted by ConocoPhillips security in reporting hydrofluoric acid story

Internships at InvestigateWest are not the coffee-fetching, errand-running type. In fact, as an intern, I recently learned that you may even be confused with a threat to homeland security.As an InvestigateWest intern living in Bellingham, I was the natural choice for the Seattle-based news agency to visit the ConocoPhillips refinery near Bellingham to gather descriptive color and take photos from outside the facility’s fence. The story was about the refinery’s use of hydrofluoric acid, which has the potential to harm thousands of people if it leaks. IWest environment correspondent Robert McClure warned me that, because of a post-9/11 crackdown on anyone taking pictures near refineries, dams, bridges and other potential targets of terrorists, I might be questioned at the refinery. I understood this could be a possibility, but thought the workers there would most likely not acknowledge me. Turns out, Robert was right.When I first arrived, I drove around to one of the far corners – making observations and jotting down notes along the way. After I had written down a thorough description, I stepped out of my truck and started taking photos of the refinery. Soon after my first pictures, a white Ford Escape quickly appeared. A security guard hopped out and said, “You aren’t allowed to take pictures here, it’s a federal offense.”I told him I was on a public street and have a right to take pictures from where I was. He repeated himself and radioed the make, model and license plate number of my truck. A woman’s voice responded, “Is he still taking pictures?” I was. The guard said the refinery manager was coming out to speak to me and that they would call the sheriff and confiscate my pictures. Within a minute or two, two men arrived in a white Saturn. They asked me what I was doing and I explained.