An 18-month investigation by Inside Climate News in collaboration with Berkeley Journalism’s Investigative Reporting Program (IRP) found that bulk storage tanks that hold asphalt and heavy fuels pose a potential health risk to millions of Americans living near the tanks — a national problem that has gone largely unregulated.
In “Noxious Neighbors,” Berkeley Journalism alum Sabrina Shankman (‘09) and student Julia Kane (‘21) uncovered how for at least a decade, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has known that people living next to heated tanks across the country could be breathing dangerous emissions — in some cases, high enough to violate federal clean air act standards. Yet the agency has continued to allow companies to report emissions using flawed equations developed by the petroleum industry, often resulting in underestimations.
Shankman, who has worked for Inside Climate News since 2013, began reporting on fumes from petroleum tanks in South Portland, Maine, where she lives, two years ago. After air quality testing revealed spikes in dangerous chemicals there, Shankman discovered problems with how the EPA and states track emissions.
“I first stumbled on this issue when I learned it was affecting the air that my family was breathing,” said Shankman. “But as I reported on the local issue, there were questions I couldn’t shake: How could this be allowed to happen? And if it was happening here, might it be happening elsewhere, too?”
Last summer, Kane, a research assistant at the IRP, was brought on to help report on the project. They interviewed dozens of scientists, regulators, environmental advocates and government officials and pored over thousands of documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
“The most challenging part of this project was the amount of technical documents and data we had to comb through,” said Kane, who is set to graduate from Berkeley Journalism next month with a focus on narrative writing and investigative reporting. “We had to understand how the whole regulatory system works, and it’s really complicated.”
“We could not be prouder of this collaboration with Inside Climate, which produces some of the country’s best investigative reporting on the environment,” said Professor David Barstow, head of the IRP and the Logan Distinguished Chair in Investigative Journalism. “This stunning work by Sabrina and Julia adds to that rich legacy, and it was especially gratifying to watch Sabrina, an alum of Berkeley Journalism and the IRP, and Erica Goode, the fabulous Inside Climate editor, guiding this project, expertly and enthusiastically mentor Julia over the past year. Julia will now graduate next month with this invaluable experience under her belt, and I can’t wait to watch what she does next.”
Kane plans to pursue a career as an environmental reporter and continue digging into climate and environmental justice stories. “A lot of stories about climate and public health are hidden in the details of how laws and regulations are actually enforced, ” she said. “Working on this project showed me the depth of reporting required to bring these stories to light and show the effect our regulatory system has on the environment and people’s health.”
To learn more, read their story at www.insideclimatenews.org.
(Pictured at the top of this page: Global Partners’ Chelsea Terminal sits across the river from Boston and just steps away from a neighborhood. Credit: Julia Kane/Inside Climate News)
About Inside Climate News
Founded in 2007, Inside Climate News is a Pulitzer Prize-winning, nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that provides essential reporting and analysis on climate change, energy and the environment, for the public and for decision makers.
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