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

New data shows how poor air quality impacted Chicago this summer, including unexplained spikes in pollution

In mid-July, near 106th and Avenue D on Chicago’s Southeast Side, air pollution began to climb to a level that data from nearby sensors suggest is rare outside of the Fourth of July — historically the city’s worst day for air quality. 

On July 21, three different air quality sensors in the neighborhood captured levels of particulate matter — tiny particles of smoke, dust and other compounds that can enter a person’s lungs and cause devastating health problems, including premature death — in the air about twice the level of pollution from the week before.

These spikes in pollution are among several concerning events that MuckRock found upon digging into data from a network of more than 100 air quality sensors across Chicago, placed by Microsoft in partnership with the city and community organizations.

As part of a grant through Northwestern University Medill and Google News Initiative’s Data Driven Reporting Project, MuckRock is retrieving daily air quality readings from this sensor network. We're now publicly releasing results from these sensors on GitHub, along with data visualizations and context about how to use the numbers.

We hope that newsrooms, civic groups and the public will take advantage of the dataset to investigate air quality in Chicago. For more backstory on this project, check out our previous article with the Chicago Sun-Times, WBEZ, and Cicero Independiente.

Explore Chicago air quality data
Read more about this data release
Go behind the scenes of the Uncounted project with a new article about how MuckRock collaborates

In the summer of 2021, the Documenting COVID-19 project published an article with The Kansas City Star about an elected coroner in Macon County, Missouri, who told us he routinely went against CDC guidance and wrote down causes of death that excluded COVID-19 if it “pleases the family.”

The story went viral and was picked up by multiple national outlets. After the story was published, Andrew Stokes, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health reached out to our team to say that he had been studying the potential undercount of COVID deaths across the country.

This conversation led to the central collaboration of Uncounted, MuckRock's investigation into excess deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our team has worked closely with Stokes and his colleagues to find counties across the country with concerning mortality trends, while also collaborating with other newsrooms to investigate the causes of these trends.

In a new story with DataJournalism.com, reporters Dillon Bergin and Betsy Ladyzhets shared how they collaborate with both experts and other reporters to pursue major data journalism projects.

Bergin and Ladyzhets are also discussing their work in a Q&A held in DataJournalism.com's Discord server today, which will later be published on the Conversations with Data podcast.

Read the article on DataJournalism.com
The update 

▶ Your transparency support is doubled: From now until December 31, NewsMatch is doubling one-time gifts to MuckRock. Help support our work powering transparency and open access to government information by donating here!

▶ MuckRock is hiring a front-end developer: We're seeking a developer who will own the Svelte front end for DocumentCloud, helping to expand the utility of this platform. The position is remote and has a starting salary of $85,000. Learn more and apply here!

▶ Virginia NAACP releases records after paying hefty fee: The Virginia NAACP chapter recently released public records that it received from the state attorney general's office, discussing a new Election Integrity Unit run by the AG. The NAACP chapter paid a deposit of nearly $20,000 to receive these documents – yet the AG's office was unable to provide many of the records that it requested – according to local news station WTKR.

1FOIA finds  & top docs 

For The Record was written by Betsy Ladyzhets and edited by Michael Morisy.

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