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.


Hillsborough County had the highest number of adult lead poisonings in all of Florida. Reporters from the Tampa Bay Times set out to discover why. They interviewed more than 100 current and former employees at a local battery recycling plant suspected to be the cause. Johnson, Woolington and Murray gathered over 100,000 pages of documents and hundreds of photos and videos from employees that showed the perilous conditions inside the factory. They even became certified lead inspectors as they exposed how the factory had contaminated the surrounding community. After the initial parts of the series ran, OSHA sent inspectors into the plant for the first time in five years, confirmed the Times’ reporting, and issued one of the steepest fines in recent Florida history. Local children were screened for lead, and county regulators increased monitoring and oversight of the company, which also saw its credit rating downgraded and was driven to improve its safety systems. The Times’ project was supported by PBS FRONTLINE’s Local Journalism Initiative, which provided partial funding and consultation.