National and local print media ignore new Guardian report showing ‘shocking’ levels of lead in Chicago water

The country’s five major national newspapers – The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Los Angeles Times – alongside Chicago’s major local newspapers – Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and Daily Herald – all ignored a new report from The Guardian exposing horrifically high levels of lead in Chicago’s tap water.

On September 21, The Guardian published a stunning new report that revealed “shocking” levels of lead in Chicago’s water supply. The Guardian and water engineer Elin Betanzo analyzed a wealth of Chicago data on water testing performed between 2016 and 2021 and found that “one in 20 tap water tests performed for thousands of Chicagoans found lead, a nerve metal, at or above US government levels. limits.” According to the report, “Chicago itself has never released an analysis of the results.”

The Guardian also found that nine of the top 10 postcodes with the highest amount of lead were black and Hispanic neighborhoods; a particular home in a predominantly black neighborhood had “lead levels of 1,100 parts per billion (ppb) – 73 times the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) limit of 15 ppb.” Betanzo, who drew attention to the water crises in Washington, DC, and Flint, Michigan, warned of the “potent” and “irreversible” consequences of untreated lead in water for children and adults.

From September 21 to October 4, the following national newspapers did not cover the report at all: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and The Los Angeles Times. Although Chicago’s three largest local newspapers – the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Daily Herald – have previously covered the city’s severe lead water crisis, all three ignored this new report from The Guardian.

The failure of national and local newspapers to cover this critical new data on Chicago’s lead problem is emblematic of a broader trend in mainstream media – whether print or television – to ignore environmental concerns until recently. until the problem took on dramatic proportions. Flint’s ongoing water crisis was mostly ignored by national newspapers at its height in 2014 and 2015, and they didn’t draw attention to it until 2016 when a national emergency was declared. declared by the governor.

Even when the mainstream media has covered environmental concerns like water crises, they tend to ignore how disproportionately they affect communities of color. In coverage of the recent water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi, the cable and broadcast networks spent very little time discussing it within an environmental justice framework, burying the context that the lack of running water in the city disproportionately affects black communities.


Media Matters searched the Factiva database for stories in the top 5 US newspapers by circulation (Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post) and the top 3 local newspapers in Chicago by circulation (Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and Daily Herald) for the term “Chicago” and any of the terms “water”, “lead”, “neurotoxin” or “Guardian” in the headline or paragraph lede of the 21 September 2022, until October 4, 2022.

We have defined articles as examples that reference the Chicago water crisis or The Guardian report in the headline or lead paragraph.

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