“Poisoned,” a meticulously researched series by The Tampa Bay Times that revealed dangerous working conditions inside the Gopher Resource lead smelting plant in Tampa, Florida, is the winner of the 2021 Worth Bingham Prize for Investigative Journalism.
The series was produced by investigative reporters Corey G. Johnson, Rebecca Woolington and Eli Murray. They revealed that hundreds of employees, many of whom were Black and immigrants, regularly worked in clouds of poisonous lead dust and other toxic chemicals with respirators that did not adequately protect them from fumes.
Despite knowing about the problem, Gopher for years failed to fix the factory’s faulty ventilation system and its company doctor didn’t warn workers that the amount of metal in their blood put them at risk for serious health problems.
The Tampa Bay Times completed “Poisoned” with support from PBS Frontline’s Local Journalism Initiative, which provided partial funding and consultation. Several Gopher workers provided vital photos and videos of conditions inside the plant, which as a private company was off limits to the Times staff.
The series has led to important reforms. Before the stories ran, Gopher began making changes in response to reporters’ questions, including repairing problems with the factory’s ventilation system, which had been identified at least four years earlier.