Mark Grossi, environmental reporter for The Fresno Bee, has won a Best of the West second-place award in the growth and environmental reporting category for his 2013 series, "Living in a Toxic Land."
The contest began in 1988 and annually draws about 1,000 entries from journalists in the 14 states from the Rockies west to Alaska and Hawaii. Its 15 categories are not divided by newspaper circulation size.
Grossi's series of nine stories spanning most of last year examined key environmental challenges in the San Joaquin Valley, where nearly one-third of its 4 million people live with high pollution and toxic risks as well as poverty, poor education and low English literacy, according to a 2011 University of California at Davis study.
Each story detailed a problem, from Kettleman City -- "ground zero for Valley waste" -- to distribution centers, from West Fresno, the riskiest place to live in California according to one study, to fracking and the fight to deliver clean drinking water to rural communities. Each story also examined the government oversight and possible changes.
Stacy Feldman, managing editor of InsideClimate News who judged the category, said of Grossi's work: "The 'Living in a Toxic Land' series identifies an issue Americans may not want to look at: Hazardous waste and human sewage are being discarded in poor communities of color where people are often voiceless and powerless. The result is a deadly 'dumping ground culture' that is largely unknown.
"Eye-opening from the start, the series connects the dots among poverty, race, dirty air, chemical exposure and ill health in California's San Joaquin Valley in a way that cannot be forgotten or forgiven ... This is highly meaningful public service journalism."
First place went to a team of three Arizona Republic reporters for an examination of the dangers of wildfires in Arizona and what led up to the Yarnell, Ariz., blaze that killed 19 firefighters.
Third place went to a three-person team from the Los Angeles News Group who reported how the Mojave Desert town of Hinkley, made famous in the movie, "Erin Brockovich," is becoming a ghost town.
There were 36 entries in the category.