‘New Mexican’ wins health care reporting award for LANL series

March 31, 2019 GMT

The Association of Health Care Journalists announced this week that it has selected the Santa Fe New Mexican, in partnership with the nonprofit news organization ProPublica, to receive a 2018 Award in Excellence in Health Care Journalism for a series on worker health and safety problems at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The series, Half-Life, by reporter Rebecca Moss, won first place for public health reporting in a large market in the national association’s annual competition, which drew 350 submissions in 12 categories.

The investigation by The New Mexican and ProPublica found Los Alamos National Laboratory has a long history of worker health and safety violations, contributing to more than $110 million in federal fines and lost performance bonuses for contractors who manage lab operations.

The violations since 2006 include serious accidents and worker exposure to radiation and toxic chemicals.

More than 1,400 lab workers who have filed claims for federal compensation due to radiation-linked cancers since 1996 have been denied the benefits.

Some New Mexico workers have spent more than a decade trying to obtain compensation, as promised under federal law; hundreds have died before their claims were resolved.

Moss also chronicled the life and death of Chad Walde, one Los Alamos National Laboratory worker who was denied federal benefits. He was diagnosed with a glioblastoma brain tumor and died in 2017, at age 44. Before his death, Walde questioned the accuracy of the lab’s records of his radiation exposure over his nearly two-decade career and recalled exposure incidents that were absent from his personnel file.

A petition to ease lab workers’ access to benefits, based on documented record-keeping issues at the lab, has been pending for more than a decade.

Judges for the health care journalism competition wrote that Moss’ reporting “sheds light on a national problem through the eyes of her local community … [and] personifies the everyday Americans who serve their country’s nuclear ambitions, perhaps to their personal detriment.”

The project was completed as part of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network, which pays the salary and benefits of a reporter in a local newsroom and provides investigative guidance for a year.

USA Today and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel also won awards in the 15-year-old competition.