Hello, welcome to the seventh edition of the Data Liberation Project’s newsletter. Inside: A deeply-reported CNN investigation based on DLP-liberated data, the case of the missing prairie dogs, citation-level data for Animal Welfare Act inspections, documentation of CFBP’s enforcement database, and the latest batch of FOIAs.
On Thursday, CNN published a deeply-reported investigation into worker injuries caused by ammonia leaks at Tyson Foods meatpacking plants.
The article, by reporters Casey Tolan and Isabelle Chapman, uses the EPA Risk Management Program data the DLP liberated earlier this year, finding that:
Tyson plants have experienced at least 47 ammonia leaks between 2012 and 2021, leading to almost 150 worker injuries, according to CNN’s analysis of previously unreported Environmental Protection Agency data covering facilities that store large amounts of hazardous chemicals.
That’s just one of Tolan and Chapman’s many takeaways from the data. Here’s another:
Of the 20 facilities that reported the most chemical release-related injuries to the EPA over that time period, five are Tyson meat plants, more than any other company.
(Note: “In a statement, Tyson defended its record, arguing that it was more proactive than other companies in reporting ammonia accidents to the EPA.”)
The article generously cites the DLP:
CNN obtained the database of reports from the Data Liberation Project, a new initiative that works to make government records more accessible, which requested it under the Freedom of Information Act and published it online.
Do read the full article, which I think does a great job of putting the data-based findings in context, acknowledging their limitations, and incorporating many other sources of information. To wit:
CNN interviewed eleven current or former Tyson workers across three different plants who experienced ammonia leaks. They described lasting effects on their respiratory systems or struggles with mental health, and some said they received no prior training about what to do in the event of an ammonia leak.
In addition, CNN found one case in which Tyson reported far fewer injuries to the EPA than local officials documented. Tyson’s report on the 2014 ammonia leak at another Arkansas plant lists just a single injury, but records from the local fire department say more than two dozen people were injured – a former worker described a terrifying scene with many of her colleagues vomiting, crying and struggling to breathe.
If you’re a reporter looking to make further use of this data, do get in touch.
Last year, staff at the El Paso Zoo “became aware that the entire colony of 14 adult black-tailed prairie dogs was missing.” That finding, among others, is recorded in an Animal Welfare Act inspection report written by USDA staff earlier this year.
When the USDA releases inspection reports like these, there’s no press release. In fact, the agency provides no official mechanism to be notified of newly available reports. That’s one of the reasons the Data Liberation Project and Big Local News collaborated to build a data pipeline that gathers and processes such inspection reports, and why it includes an RSS feed of recently-discovered reports containing “critical” citations.
Ben Welsh, co-maintainer of the pipeline, saw the report and tweeted a link to it, which Kate Gannon shared with local media. Thanks to Ben and Kate, at least three El Paso news organizations have reported on the incident:
With a big thanks to DLP volunteer Gustav Cappaert, the Animal Welfare Act inspection pipeline mentioned above now generates data on the individual citations listed in each inspection. For each citation in each report, you can find its regulatory code, severity, repeat status, and narrative text.
Those records, which had to be parsed from the report PDFs, seem to open up a whole new range of analyses, that — to my knowledge — have never been possible before.
A few weeks ago, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sent a determination letter and six pages of records in response to the DLP’s request for documentation of its enforcement database.
As you’ll see in the letter, the CFPB says they’re not withholding or redacting anything — just that there are no responsive documents beyond those six pages.
On the one hand, I’m skeptical that those six pages represent the totality of records documenting the enforcement database. On the other hand, I don’t have any explicit evidence that additional relevant records exist. Do any DLP Dispatch readers have suggestions, or transparency-spirited contacts at CFPB?
In any case, these six pages do provide some helpful clues that could inform a follow-up request for targeted slices of the data itself. I hope to draft such a request soon, and I welcome suggestions on it.
You can read more about each request via the links above. If you have any questions about them, please do ask.