WBAL: Saving Groundwater

Oct 23, 2006  •  Post A Comment

WBAL-TV in Baltimore ran a 15-part investigative series from August through December 2005 that looked into the environmental practices of a Maryland composting company called New Earth Services. The company had large unpermitted “lagoons” on its site that created groundwater pollution, said John Sherman, the reporter for the Hearst-Argyle-owned NBC station.

Mr. Sherman learned about the lagoons from a resident. “We moved fairly quickly and it was maybe about two weeks later … the first package ran more than seven minutes,” he said.

The story exposed how the company had covered up the pollution, Mr. Sherman said. The Environmental Protection Agency conducted a field inspection the day after the report aired and issued a 14-page letter to the company detailing the violation.

“The series progressed and people who lived nearby had drinking water wells that tested badly. The county and state found that the nearby drinking water was polluted and the county and state were doing little to assist, so we followed the story,” he said.

The state eventually shut down the company for violating a number of state and federal laws related to permitting the lagoons and to the ground and surface water pollution, which included bacterial pollution of drinking water, he said. The company is shut down for good now, Mr. Sherman added.

“You take a company doing something wrong and we exposed it, and finally the government stepped up and did what it should have done 10 years before, and you get to help people who were having trouble with well water,” he said.

The series was part of a three-year investigative project the station has conducted into Chesapeake Bay pollution. The station won a Peabody Award, a News & Documentary Emmy, three regional Emmys and four regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for the series.

The “Dirty Secret” piece also received a Grantham Award of Special Merit from the Grantham Foundation.

On its Web site, the Grantham Foundation said that the jurors said other local and national TV media “should follow WBAL’s lead and give their employees the time and resources to produce outstanding TV environmental journalism that makes a difference.”