Watch: A Philadelphia Inquirer investigation into lead poisoning prompted parents to start a Facebook Group that helped secure safer playgrounds and schools. The Facebook Journalism Project went behind the headlines to tell the story of how the Pulitzer Prize winning-newspaper, and the community it serves, galvanized government officials to change local policy.
In 2015, shortly after the Flint water crisis brought national attention to the devastating effects of lead poisoning, a Philadelphia parent called The Philadelphia Inquirer and asked if their reporters had checked for lead in the ground. At the time, the newspaper had already published stories mapping out lead poisoning in the paint of old homes — but the parent’s call sparked a new investigation into lead poisoning in the Philadelphia area.
For the next two years, The Philadelphia Inquirer’s investigative reporters uncovered environmental hazards in multiple areas throughout the city, including playgrounds and public schools, where unhealthy conditions were making children sick.
Almost immediately after The Philadelphia Inquirer published its findings in a multi-part series called “Toxic City,” local parents created a Facebook Group called “Get the Lead Out” and used it to organize community meetings. The group’s members alerted officials and the EPA. Their actions ultimately spurred changes to local policy on removing dangerous pollution from playground soil and schools.
Wendy Ruderman, an investigative reporter who co-wrote the “Toxic City” story, watched parents organize within the Facebook Group. “In a way, they became the watchdogs,” she said. “We gave them the information, and they took it to another level where they empowered themselves, and have this ongoing town hall on Facebook.” The Group is still active and has more than 1,300 members.