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Toxic Taps: Lead is still the problem

Long-form and video investigation of water pipe replacements that can cause a spike in water lead levels / 4503 words and 6+ minute video / Investigative Reporting Workshop and nbcnews.com’s Open Channel

By Sheila Kaplan and Corbin Hiar, with contributions from Hilary Niles and Julie Stein

Millions of Americans may be drinking water that is contaminated with dangerous doses of lead. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) knows it; state governments know it; local utilities know it. The only people who usually don’t know it are those who are actually drinking the toxic water.

The problem stems from a common practice in which water utilities replace sections of deteriorating lead service lines rather than the entire lines, commonly known as partial pipe replacements. It is a course of action that can do more harm than good.

“It’s scary and the magnitude of this problem is huge,” said Dr. Jeffrey K. Griffiths, a Tufts University professor of medicine and public health, who recently chaired an expert panel advising the EPA on the problem. “I didn’t realize how extensive the lead exposure still remained. … EPA is really deeply concerned about this …. This was not something they expected.”

Learning the Dream

Long-form profile as part of the American Next, a special project exploring the hopes, fears and changing expectations of Missouri’s next generation in challenging times / 4063 words / The Columbia Missourian

As a boy, growing up and going to school in an African refugee camp, the only thing Ahmed Abdalla really knew about America was that he wanted to move there.

He was just a baby when his parents escaped genocide and famine in their native Somalia. They left family behind — some murdered, others simply refusing to budge. They fled on foot, finding their way to a series of temporary safe havens. Six years later and with as many more children, the Abdallas built the first home their children would know. They lived in Kakuma, a refugee camp in northwestern Kenya.

In Kakuma, America’s allure was as ubiquitous as heat. It came with no proof: Ahmed had never known a refugee to return to the camp; there were no newspapers or radios and little access to modern media. Still, this rumor of America saturated Ahmed’s childhood and the refugee culture. Dreaming of a new life in America wasn’t discussed. It was understood.

Ahmed was 13 and had spent seven years in Kakuma when his family was relocated to St. Louis. There, they began another winding journey through a series of apartments, jobs and the maze of laws, challenges, demands and possibilities that is the real America.

Seven more years after his dream of America came true, Ahmed — now 20 and a doorman at a posh downtown hotel — is still learning what it means to live here.

Ahmed’s story echoes both the enduring gratitude and steep learning curve that often follow refugee resettlement. All is new in this new world and not all as it seemed from afar. From what he knew to what he imagined to what he found, Ahmed discovered that dreams-made-real take some getting used to.

IN THEIR OWN WORDS: Sarah “Jonesey” Johnson

Interview as part of the American Next, a special project exploring the hopes, fears and changing expectations of Missouri’s next generation in challenging times / 3734 words / The Columbia Missourian

It’s a really odd little story. I realized when I was 34 that what I wanted to do with the rest of my life was to be a librarian. And I wanted to learn how to fix books. And I really wanted to do that in places like after Hurricane Katrina, and after the flood in Iowa. Libraries fall through a lot of monetary aid cracks, yet they are an incredibly important part of any community.

They’re part of the legitimacy of communities because they provide a sense of history when you get to books and records and the things that prove your right to exist in a place. Things like deeds, legal records, the original maps people drew to define the space you live in. And because our culture is so legalistic, we need the paper trail.

Humans express themselves visually, and one way of visually expressing yourself is in the written language. It also provides cultural legitimacy in the sense that other people like me have written books about the things I am experiencing. So that puts me on a spectrum. And if I’m on a spectrum, then I exist. If I can place myself somewhere measurable, then I have a history. If I have a history, then I have a present. If I have a present, then I have a future.

Hustle and dream

Work profile as part of the American Next, a special project exploring the hopes, fears and changing expectations of Missouri’s next generation in challenging times / 547 words / The Columbia Missourian

Eugene “EZ” Lacy assesses potential customers as they walk by his father’s flea market stall in a converted storage building in Jennings, a municipality in northeastern St. Louis County. A middle-aged woman with long hair, meticulously delicate eyebrows and frosted pink lips comments on the panther carpet hanging behind him.

“You like that?” Lacy asks. “You can take it home right now for $35.”

She stops. She’s already got one at home, she explains, and the mirror that goes with it. She points to the two black panthers on their haunches, facing each other almost in silhouette against a golden-yellow would-be sun on black background. The carpet hangs sideways next to one with a lion, and another with a big cat.

“You can take this one home to have in case something happens to the one you got now,” Lacy says.

She’s not buying it. He tries again.

Economic Indicators

Set of graphical economic indicators spanning 40 years of the American economy / 19 charts and info grahpics / Investigative Reporting Workshop

Prior to publication, I proofed this set of graphics against the data on which are were based.

The economic story of the past 40 years — wage stagnation, increased poverty rates, rising consumer debt — stands in sharp contrast to earlier periods in American history, when an expanding economy brought broader prosperity and created a large and dynamic middle class. The charts below tell the story in ways that words, alone, cannot.

view up the mast of a wooden-masted tall ship

Living on Liberty

I’ve just left the Investigative Reporters and Editors annual conference in Boston, and not only was the entire affair inspiring, informative, and fun. I got to stay on a tall ship in Boston Harbor, instead of a regular hotel. It might sound a tad sexier than it was.

Brooks Yang in front of book shelves at a bookstore reading

Finding the right space

Brief profile as part of the American Next, a special project exploring the hopes, fears and changing expectations of Missouri’s next generation in challenging times. /539 words / The Columbia Missourian

Brooks Yang may tell you that she’s “kind of doing nothing” these days. Don’t believe her.

Yes, the 23-year-old Princeton grad has moved back in with her parents after graduating last spring. No, she’s not working. And no, she doesn’t have plans to get a job in her field of study, architecture.

In fact, she wants to be a filmmaker — a writer/director, specifically. She’s waiting to hear back from graduate programs for directing and screenwriting. When I met her in February, she was helping two installation artists with box office venue design for the upcoming True/False Film Fest in Columbia. She was also organizing a reading list for herself and taking two classes at MU, in accounting and economics — “to try out thinking in those ways,” she said.

Yang is making plans — and decisions.

Services, growth and controversy: profile of a public agency

Four-part series on Boone County Family Resources, a local government agency that provides disability services / The Columbia Missourian

Columbia’s North Village neighborhood is a vestige of a time gone by. Many residents are fighting to keep it that way.

Susan Thompson knows firsthand how the families of people with disabilities benefit from community support. Thompson, a case manager for Boone County Family Resources, grew up with a mother who is blind.

Max Lewis is both a client and a member of the Boone County Family Resources Board of Directors. The 45-year-old lawyer survived a diving accident on June 12, 1986, but a spinal cord injury paralyzed him from the chest down.

Isaac Pasley had been driving with a learner’s permit for two years, but his mom was still uncertain about him taking the wheel on his own.

Life Story: Dr. George William Nordholtz Eggers Jr.

Obituary describing the life of a local doctor / 851 words / The Columbia Missourian

When you talk to people who knew Dr. George William Nordholtz Eggers Jr., you can tell how they knew him by the different names they call him.

He is “Dr. Eggers” or “Bill” in the medical community. “Billy” to the crowd he grew up with in Galveston, Texas. “Doc” to his poker-playing buddies. “Dad” and “Grandpa” to his family.

Dr. Eggers died Sunday, Dec. 4, 2011, at University Hospital in Columbia. He was 82.

“This was his home,” said Scott McCord, who worked for Dr. Eggers as a medical student in 1962. “He’s one of the reasons I stayed around.”

Night Shift: Midnight Country

“Not just radio. Community radio,” they say at KOPN, where volunteers have been keeping the frequency live since March 3, 1973. Part music and part talk, the station’s programming is diverse and sometimes controversial. There’s a waiting list for new DJs, whose first chance to get on the air is often in the middle of the night.

Woody Adkins, 48, started “Midnight Country” in 2000. He’ll play some current country music — but only if it sounds traditional.
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