WBAL-TV, Baltimore

Jan 15, 2007  •  Post A Comment

WBAL-TV’s John Sherman is going to need a bigger trophy case. The reporter at the Hearst-Argyle-owned NBC station in Baltimore will add to his booty this week a DuPont Award for a 15-part investigative series that ran from August through December 2005.

The series, which looked into the environmental practices of a Maryland composting company called New Earth Services, has already won a Peabody Award, a News & Documentary Emmy, three regional Emmys and four regional Edward R. Murrow Awards.

It started with a tip. Mr. Sherman said he learned from an area resident that New Earth Services had large unpermitted “lagoons” on its site that created groundwater pollution.

“We moved fairly quickly and it was maybe about two weeks later. We were actually covering a murder trial at the time. The first package ran more than seven minutes,” he said. “That exposed the problem and the cover-up of the problem.”

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. “People’s drinking water wells were testing positive for bacterial contamination,” he said. The company also specifically violated the Federal Clean Water Act. New Earth Services 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 “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 commented that 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.”