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

Tips to find out how your local government is planning (or not) to protect your air

In the late 1980s, an area of the Jurupa Valley in Riverside, California, began a transformation that would turn it from a community of sprawling dairy farms to hub for enormous warehouses.

David Danelski, then an investigative reporter for the Riverside-Press Enterprise, unraveled the details through public records on town planning and found one important document missing from projects approved by county officials for more than a decade: the environmental impact statement.

In Dillon Bergin's final guide on air pollution and public records, Danelski offers advice on how to find the documents local governments use to assess environmental consequences in town or city planning. Examples include environmental impact statements, air pollution control plans, and studies on the health impacts of air pollution. You can catch up on the full series here.

Read the FOIA guide
Some example requests you can make: Read the full Air Quality Access series for more suggestions and tips on investigating environmental issues in your community.

Image via B Brown / Shutterstock.
New York City wastewater shows link between cryptic COVID variants and worse phases of the pandemic

In a new study, Columbia University researchers have identified coronavirus mutations in New York City wastewater that seem to appear when severe disease rates begin to rise. The findings may pinpoint subtle, understated variants in the pandemic that are affecting day-to-day outcomes, including hospitalization and death, without doctors noticing.

Read Betsy Ladyzhets' full story, published in collaboration with Gothamist.

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, let us know.

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 

▶ Making history. Access to information powers critical reporting today, but it also ensures that there's a broad historical record for tomorrow. MuckRock is collaborating with Columbia University's History Lab and the Brown Institute for Media Innovation on a new project to explore how to better prepare the raw materials behind our reporting for archival access, including through collaborating on a range of new analysis tools that will benefit journalists, researchers, historians and the public both today and in the future. Read more about the initiative at History Lab's announcement page and explore a prototype of their analysis tools.

▶ Incarceration deaths in Texas. Keri Blakinger of the Marshall Project shared a grim tally she's been keeping: A spreadsheet of deaths in custody in the Lone Star State. Similar data is available in other jurisdictions — in this case, the spreadsheet is updated based on documents proactively released by the state.

▶ How's my driving? If you've ever wondered about the track record of your public transit operator, public records might offer some help. Beth Healy, reporting for WBUR, used public documents to find that 25 drivers in the Boston-area MBTA transit system had been suspended at least twice for safety violations — and then kept their jobs.

▶ 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 


For The Record was written by Michael Morisy today.

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