2022 Finalist, Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting

Sacrifice Zones: Mapping Cancer-Causing Industrial Air Pollution

In an unprecedented data analysis and interactive map, ProPublica revealed more than 1,000 hot spots of toxic industrial air pollution that the EPA has allowed to spread across America, elevating the cancer risk of more than a fifth of the nation’s population, including 256,000 people exposed to threat levels the agency deems unacceptably high. The series captured how the EPA, through weak policies and calculated choices, created “sacrifice zones” where overlooked communities next door to toxic manufacturing plants bear disproportionate health costs so that consumers can enjoy the products made there. The interactive map at the heart of this reporting provides residents – for the first time – with a way to see their own estimated risk from air pollution. As a result of this reporting the EPA committed to looking into hot spots, and pledged new cumulative risk guidelines and a “more robust” analysis of air pollution. More than 76 local news outlets reported on the findings from their area, expanding awareness of local air pollution risks and prompting local activism.

This reporting was done by ProPublica, with collaboration from the Texas Tribune and Mountain State Spotlight.

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