Your essential weekly guide to the latest on FOIA, transparency and accountability battles, threats and wins. Powered by the reporters at MuckRock.

Air quality access: Using complaints, violations and fines to pinpoint local polluters

Freelance journalist Monica Vaughan was reporting on air pollution in California’s San Joaquin Valley when the words of one mother changed her perspective.

“I just scan the stories looking for the sentence about whether or not it’s safe to live here. And I can never find that,” Vaughan remembered the woman saying.

In our second guide on air pollution and public records requests, we bring together advice from reporters like Vaughan and examples that might help you uncover unsafe air in your community. From initial complaints to sustained violations, we give you the tools to ask your local government how it regulates polluters in your area.

Text written by Dillon Bergin. Image via Pixel B / Shutterstock.

Read the FOIA guide
Want more tips and examples around investigating air pollution through FOIA? Check out the first guide in this series.
Is wildfire smoke changing your daily life? We want to hear from you

In the Western U.S., wildfires are growing in size and happening more often. California has been hit especially hard. In the last five years, eight of the 10 largest fires in California history have scorched millions of acres.

The harm of wildfires extends far beyond the ash and charred ground left behind. An investigation by The California Newsroom last year, “Dangerous Air,” found that exposure to wildfire smoke has been increasing across the country, not just on the West Coast. Health impacts range from heart and respiratory illnesses to premature births, while long-term consequences are not fully understood.

The California Newsroom is collaborating with MuckRock and Columbia University’s Brown Institute for Media Innovation to investigate how wildfires affect the air quality of Americans across the country.

If wildfires seem like a risk to the health of you or your family, if ash and soot have disrupted your daily routine, or if wildfire smoke is forcing you to consider moving elsewhere, you can contribute to this project by filling out this short form.

Text excerpted from reporting by Dillon Bergin, Mohar Chatterjee and Smarth Gupta. Image via Andrew Nixon/CapRadio.

Tell us about your wildfire smoke experience
The update 

▶ Media organizations sue Texas Department of Public Safety for Uvalde records: Last week's newsletter highlighted a new media coalition pushing for access to public records surrounding the tragic school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. Earlier this week, several newsrooms in the coalition filed a lawsuit against the Texas Department of Public Safety, charging that the state agency should "produce all responsive records." The lawsuit includes CNN, the Texas Tribune, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and TV networks, among others, CNN reports.

▶ New England First Amendment Institute opens applications: October 23-25 will mark the 12th year that the New England First Amendment Coalition runs its Institute, a training program for journalists seeking to improve their understanding of FOIA and investigative skills, hosted at Northeastern University in Boston. Print, digital, and broadcast journalists with at least two years of news reporting experience are eligible to apply to attend the program for free; the application closes on August 12.

FOIA finds  & top docs 
Work at MuckRock!
Want to help build a more transparent world? MuckRock is hiring with two roles currently openour first chief operating officer and an open-source fellow who will support and work with the DocumentCloud grant projects. Join our distributed team as we bring together transparency, journalism and technology. Oh, and lots and lots of public records requests.

For The Record is written by Betsy Ladyzhets and edited by André Natta.

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