Recent Projects

October 2013
Exhausted at School

Of the roughly 50,000 kids who will attend Seattle schools in 2013, nearly 2,000 will hit the books in classrooms within 500 feet of Interstate 5, InvestigateWest has found. This despite a body of evidence dating back decades that highway air pollution can cause lifelong respiratory problems and asthma attacks and boost school absenteeism.

From Seattle to Spokane, what can be done to make sure schools are healthy places for kids?

June 2013
A Trilogy of Fish Stories

"Six nonprofit groups arose on the Bering Sea shore, and they have invested mightily in ships, real estate and processing plants. Over two decades, the groups amassed a combined net worth of $785 million," write Lee van der Voo and The New York Times' Kirk Johnson.

But the results on the ground, in rural community and economic development, have been deeply uneven, and nonexistent for many people who still gaze out to the blinking lights of the factory ships and wonder what happened.

In a series of three pieces for InvestigateWest, Portland-based reporter Lee van der Voo Lee van der Voo visits Alaksa's fishing industry a generation after it was rationalized. She uncovers absentee landlords, brokers and bankers, and fish quota that costs more than your house — realities that fly in the face of more official, rosy portrayals.

March 2013
Business Interests Trump Health Concerns over Toxic Fish

For two decades, Washington officials have known that state water pollution rules are based on faulty assumptions – meaning some residents consume dangerous levels of toxins when they dine on local fish. But as the Department of Ecology was on the cusp of finalizing new, stronger water pollution limits in 2011, Boeing and its allies intervened, all the way up Gov. Gregoire herself.

Using more than 1,000 pages of public records and newly released internal documents, InvestigateWest has uncovered how business and municipal interests trumped the health of sport fishermen, tribes, and everyone else who reels in dinner from local waterways.

Read the story and our timeline of events.

February 2013
Aging Out of Foster Care

“Aging out” of foster care is standard for nearly 600 wards of the state who turn 18 each year, and the results are no surprise: Former foster youth have off-the-charts rates of homelessness and post-traumatic stress. They end up in jail, prison or hospital emergency rooms far more frequently than other teens their age. Most never attend college.

There is a solution, but evidence on whether it works is scant. As legislators weigh the benefits with the predicted cost of scaling up the program to cover every young person about to age out of the system – including those with criminal records – InvestigateWest examines what happens what foster teens reach the end of the line.

Read "Aged Out and Alone at 18".

Our independent reporting is made possible through a generous grant from the Satterberg Foundation and the support of our members.

November 2012
Pediatric MS Cases on the Rise in the Northwest

 

Multiple sclerosis (MS) has long been known as an autoimmune disorder that affects more people living in the Pacific Northwest than most anywhere else, but just why that is remains a mystery. Today researchers have begun unraveling some new theories from a new set of patients; the number of kids diagnosed with MS is on the rise.

In collaboration with the KUOW Program Venture Fund, InvestigateWest followed a Silverdale, Wash., high school senior who was diagnosed with MS at age 14. Reporter Carol Smith talked to the doctors and researchers in the Northwest who are on the trail of the disease, looking for an answer to the ultimate question: Could studying young patients lead to new treatments to keep a new generation of MS patients as healthy as possible for as long as possible?

September 2012
Center of Detention

A massive, low-slung industrial building in Tacoma, Wash., the Northwest Detention Center is the fourth-largest immigration facility in the United States, generating millions in revenue for its private operator by processing thousands of deportation cases each year. An in-depth look at how NWDC came to be built here and how it quietly tripled in size in little over a decade reveals the heart-rending tales of immigrants facing deportation like Oscar Campos Estrada and their families that have become common in a post-9/11 world.

Center of Detention is a collaboration between The News Tribune and InvestigateWest. See a list of all stories in the project.

August 2012
Clean Water: The Next Act

Forty years ago, Congress enacted the Clean Water Act to end pollution of our rivers, lakes and bays. But today, in the Northwest and nationwide, most water bodies still don't qualify as clean and new threats to clean water are outpacing the act's enforcers.

Clean Water: The Next Act is a joint project of EarthFixEcotrope and InvestigateWest. See a list of all the stories in this project.

June 2012
Parks for Sale

As local governments trade away public parkland, the safeguards put in place by the Land and Water Conservation Fund to protect that land are full of holes. Robert McClure tracked a handful of park conversions for more than three years, reviewed thousands of pages of documents and compiled a database of over 40,000 park grants. 

"Parks for Sale" was published by msnbc.com with support from the Fund for Investigative Journalism and InvestigateWest members.

February 2012
Toxic Asphalt

Four new studies paint an increasingly alarming picture – particularly for young children – about how toxic chemicals are being spread across big swaths of American cities and suburbs by what may seem an unlikely source: a type of asphalt sealer derived from industrial waste known as coal tar. In 2011, Washington became the first state in the nation to ban the pavement sealants. The new studies appearing in science journals in March 2012 further implicate coal tar-based asphalt sealants as likely health risks, a story InvestigateWest broke in 2010. Read IW's original coal-tar reporting on MSNBC.com.

January 2012
The Prescription Epidemic

In an effort to reduce overdose deaths from opioid painkillers like OxyContin, in March 2012 Washington state began to enforce the first-ever dosing limits for doctors and others who prescribe those medicines, under what is the strongest prescription drug law in the country. Over six months, InvestigateWest uncovered how Washington’s emergence as a state with one of the highest rates of both opioid prescriptions and deaths was not, in hindsight, an accident. Stories from The Prescription Epidemic ran in The Spokesman-Review and Crosscut, and InvestigateWest co-produced the 30-minute documentary "Prescription for Abuse" a documentary with KCTS-9 Seattle.

December 2011
Where There’s Smoke, There’s Sickness

The health risks of wood smoke pollution -- heart attacks, asthma, cancer -- vex poor and rural communities where wood is a cheap or even free source of heat. Communities bump up against federal air-pollution limits each winter, yet cleaner solutions remain costly. InvestigateWest teamed up with KCTS 9 Seattle/EarthFix and the Northwest News Network to find out what can be done.

June 2011
Breathing Uneasy: Port CEO promised green reform, but many trucks still pollute

A companion piece to "Breathing Uneasy," InvestigateWest examines the tenure of Port of Seattle CEO Tay Yoshitani. While Yoshitani extended promises to make Seattle’s port the “cleanest, greenest, most energy-efficient port in the U.S.,” he has in fact worked behind the scenes to scuttle legislation that would allow tighter regulation of the privately operated trucks hauling freight from the port.

June 2011
Breathing Uneasy: Air Pollution Crisis in South Seattle

Breathing Uneasy takes a look at the fallout of truck traffic and other sources of diesel emissions on pollution in south Seattle. New studies show the area now has some of the dirtiest air and highest asthma hospitalization rates in the state.

The problems here have implications in other neighborhoods, too: Anywhere people are living close to major roadways, they’re likely breathing unhealthy air, studies show. Anyone living within about 200 yards of a major roadway is thought to be at increased risk, with the first 100 yards being the hottest pollution zone.

The "Breathing Uneasy" collaboration with KCTS 9 Seattle is made possible by a generous grant from the RealNetworks Foundation.

March 2011
The Duwamish River Superfund Site

In an investigation of the south Seattle's Duwamish Superfund site, InvestigateWest reveals the highest rates of illness – including asthma, diabetes and colorectal cancer – in King County. Babies born to river families are more likely to die, and those who survive can expect a shorter life span than people born and raised just a few miles away. With few other options, area residents, among the poorest in the county, are regularly eating fish from the river despite an official government ban on such fishing. But Seattle regulators are starting to pay attention.

Update: In November 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded a $100,000 grant to study health risks in the Duwamish Valley, many identified in InvestigateWest's reporting, and come up with strategies for improvement.

March 2011
Mental health funding cuts hit Washington, nation

State cuts to spending on mental illness have led hospitals to hold more people against their will in emergency rooms, sometimes in restraints, or even in hallways when inpatient rooms are full, according to InvestigateWest reporting. The expected $42 million in cuts over two years will have other effects, too: fewer beds for those with long-term psychiatric care needs, more mentally ill people homeless or in jail, and virtually no community-based support for non-Medicaid patients.

This project is a collaboration with the Center for Public Integrity on a national trend toward budget cuts for mental health services.

February 2011
Close Calls and Narrow Escapes

A six-month examination of more than 150,000 reports filed by pilots and others in the aviation industry over the past 20 years reveals surprising and sometimes shocking safety breaches and close calls at local, regional and major airports throughout the country, including SeaTac International Airport and Boeing Field.

This review of the little-explored NASA records by NPR and INN members shows that the wide variety of problems translates into more than 130 near-mishaps and lapses reported on an average day, most happening unbeknownst to the flying public or those living near the airports.

January 2011
The Vesting Loophole

Thousands of new houses have been built in Washington under a loophole in growth-management laws designed to limit urban sprawl. Because of a legal theory known as "vesting," the state has repeatedly authorized major real-estate developments to go forward after they've been found in violation of the landmark Growth Management Act, InvestigateWest reporting has found.

Stories in this project examine the Yarrow Bay developments in Black Diamond, Wash.; Redmond Ridge, one of the oldest, and largest, developments to circumvent the sprawl rules; and the impact of vesting on efforts to reduce water pollution and restore Puget Sound.

October 2010
Generation Homeless

Young adults are one of the most under-recognized segments driving the surge in homeless families in Washington state, and the impact of this trend on children, and school systems around the state, is significant. Even as the number of beds for young adults has been expanding, relatively few resources are available to prevent them from producing new generations of homeless families.

"Generation Homeless" is a nine-minute radio documentary produced by InvestigateWest for KUOW. Feature stories are running on SeattlePI.com and AOL News, and in print in the Walla Walla Union Bulletin and the Yakima Herald-Republic.

July 2010
Lifesaving Drugs, Deadly Consequences

An InvestigateWest investigation has found that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration does not regulate exposure to chemotherapy in the workplace, despite multiple studies documenting ongoing contamination and exposures and their potentially deadly consequences for human health.

Update: In April 2011, Washington state enacted two new laws to protect health care workers. The first establishes an occupational cancer registry in the state, and the second better regulates of toxic compounds in the workplace, including drugs used in chemotherapy.