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TUESDAY May 10, 2022: Tampa Bay Times investigative reporters Eli Murray, Rebecca Woolington and Corey G. Johnson win the Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting for their series, 'Poisoned,' for exposing dangers at a local lead smelter, with photography by award winning staff photographers Martha Asencio Rhine, Dick Shadd, James Borchuck and Yalonda M. James: Hundreds of workers at a Tampa lead smelter have been exposed to dangerous levels of the neurotoxin. Gopher exposed workers for years to levels of lead in the air that were hundreds of times higher than the federal limit. The consequences have been profound. Tampa Bay Times reporters Corey G. Johnson, Rebecca Woolington and Eli Murray spent 18 months examining thousands of pages of regulatory reports and company documents, including data tracking the amount of lead in the air and in workers' blood. OSHA The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is supposed to ensure that companies provide safe work environments. But the regulatory agency has repeatedly bungled the job at Gopher, allowing hazardous conditions to persist for years, a Tampa Bay Times investigation has found. Welcome to: POISONED
© zReportage.com Story of the Week #838: TUESDAY May 10, 2022: Tampa Bay Times investigative reporters Eli Murray, Rebecca Woolington and Corey G. Johnson win the Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting for their series, 'Poisoned,' for exposing dangers at a local lead smelter, with photography by award winning staff photographers Martha Asencio Rhine, Dick Shadd, James Borchuck and Yalonda M. James: Hundreds of workers at a Tampa lead smelter have been exposed to dangerous levels of the neurotoxin. Gopher exposed workers for years to levels of lead in the air that were hundreds of times higher than the federal limit. The consequences have been profound. Tampa Bay Times reporters Corey G. Johnson, Rebecca Woolington and Eli Murray spent 18 months examining thousands of pages of regulatory reports and company documents, including data tracking the amount of lead in the air and in workers' blood. OSHA The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is supposed to ensure that companies provide safe work environments. But the regulatory agency has repeatedly bungled the job at Gopher, allowing hazardous conditions to persist for years, a Tampa Bay Times investigation has found. Welcome to: POISONED
KO BROWN was a furnace supervisor at Gopher Resource, a lead plant in Tampa, for six years. Although Brown developed blood pressure issues due to the high lead levels in his blood, he said the money kept him at the job. 'I felt like they showed us money that we've never seen before, so we rationalized working there,' Brown said. Ko's son Colin was diagnosed with autism and had high lead levels in his blood at a young age, which they believe was due to his father, Ko, bringing it home from his work at Gopher Resource.
© Martha Asencio Rhine/Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA Press Wire
Lead-laced dust covers the inside of the Gopher Resource in Tampa, the only lead smelter in the state of Florida. Hundreds of workers at a Tampa lead smelter have been exposed to dangerous levels of the neurotoxin. Gopher exposed workers for years to levels of lead in the air that were hundreds of times higher than the federal limit.
© Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA Press Wire
ERIC AUTERY, a former furnace operator at Gopher Resource, poses for a portrait outside his home. Autery, an Army veteran, said his time at Gopher Resource took a toll on his health. 'The first three months were okay and then everything started to go downhill,' said Autery. 'I've been to Iraq. I was more tired in that place than I was in Iraq.' During his time working at Gopher, Autery's energy was low and his skin turned gray. He recalls the long hours and the concerning working conditions but admits the money was very good, just not worth the mental and physical toll.
© Martha Asencio Rhine/Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA Press Wire
Lead-laced dust cascades inside Gopher Resource in Tampa, the only lead smelter in the state of Florida. The video was taken in 2019. Hundreds of workers at a Tampa lead smelter have been exposed to dangerous levels of the neurotoxin. Gopher exposed workers for years to levels of lead in the air that were hundreds of times higher than the federal limit.
© Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA Press Wire
ERIC TELEMAQUE, 54, a former employee at Gopher Resource in the battery breaking department, talks about his health problems outside the nursing home where he is now living. After suffering several strokes which have left him impaired and unable to live independently and has to receive constant medical care.
© Martha Asencio Rhine/Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA Press Wire
Lead-laced dust cascades inside Gopher Resource in Tampa, the only lead smelter in the state of Florida. Hundreds of workers at a Tampa lead smelter have been exposed to dangerous levels of the neurotoxin. The consequences have been profound.
© Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA Press Wire
JAMES PITTS jokes with his son, DEVON PITTS, 11, outside their home in Apollo Beach. Pitts is a former maintenance technician at Gopher Resource where he worked from 2012-2017. He quickly developed 'pre-hypertension' and years later was diagnosed with Atrial Fibrillation after a few episodes of irregular heartbeat that left him feeling winded and weak and on the verge of 'blacking out.' Pitts believes these health issues are a result of lead exposure at the plant. DeVon also tested for lead in his system in 2015 but hasn't developed any health issues.
© Martha Asencio Rhine/Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA Press Wire
Lead-laced dust cascades inside Gopher Resource in Tampa, the only lead smelter in the state of Florida. The video was taken in 2019. Lead-laced dust cascades inside Gopher Resource in Tampa, the only lead smelter in the state of Florida. The video was taken in 2019. Hundreds of workers at a Tampa lead smelter have been exposed to dangerous levels of the neurotoxin.
© Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA Press Wire
RICKY LAWRENCE BARTELS, a former employee at Gopher Resource, at his home in Tampa. Bartels dealt with the effects of sulfur dioxide exposure in 2012 while working at Gopher. So it surprised him when an OSHA inspector instead wanted to test for sulfuric acid, the wrong chemical, he stated.
© Martha Asencio Rhine/Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA Press Wire
An aerial view of the Gopher Resource factory in Tampa. Regulators with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Monday began inspecting Gopher Resource, a Tampa lead smelter where dangerous conditions have plagued the factory for years.
© Martha Asencio Rhine/Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA Press Wire
JACOB CLEMENTE, 26, a former contractor at for BNN Welding who worked at Gopher Resource for three months in 2013, sits outside his home in Brandon. Clemente recalls an incident in which after shaking bags in the bathhouse, he passed out and woke up in an ambulance. Doctors treated him for trouble breathing and shortly after he developed chest pains that persist regularly. Clemente describes the environment as rundown and unclean.
© Martha Asencio Rhine/Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA Press Wire
Photos taken by workers at Gopher Resource in Tampa show a factory plagued with problems. Gopher exposed workers for years to levels of lead in the air that were hundreds of times higher than the federal limit.
© Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA Press Wire
TOMIKA BENNETT, 45, helps her son, COLIN BROWN, 7, with a wrist exercise during his occupational therapy session which is done virtually, at home every week in Zephyrhills. Colin was diagnosed with autism and had high lead levels in his blood at a young age, which his parents believe was due to his father, Ko Brown, bringing it home from his work at Gopher Resource. The occupational therapy includes low-impact exercises, memory games, and work to improve fine motor skills, including writing.
© Martha Asencio Rhine/Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA Press Wire
Stills from a 2019 video taken by plant workers shows lead-laced dust flowing inside Gopher Resource in Tampa. Hundreds of workers at a Tampa lead smelter have been exposed to dangerous levels of the neurotoxin.
© Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA Press Wire
LEN VERNON, 37, a former plant and heavy equipment operator at Gopher Resource from 2013 to 2019, at home in Tampa. Vernon developed high blood pressure, gout and fatigue. 'I just started to fade away,' he said. At the highest, Vernon tested for over 30 mcg/dL of lead in his blood. Vernon was diagnosed with acute chemical bronchitis after he swallowed silica, limestone and shredded steel while working at Gopher Resource.
© Martha Asencio Rhine/Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA Press Wire
TEDDY EBANKS Jr., 43, is a former employee of Gopher Resource in Tampa. The Marine veteran developed health issues while employed with Gopher, but didn't elaborate on the dilemmas he faced. 'I understand that I couldn't stay at that type of place without either poisoning myself or bringing it home to my family,' Ebanks said. 'You're required to take a shower every time you come back from the lead plant, so that's how dangerous they knew that stuff was. Apparently the PPE that was given us was ill equipped to handle the exposure.. that's very hurtful because I gave my all. They purposely and knowingly put us in hazardous places and make it seem like we're the ones at fault when we had high lead exposure. It's very hurtful.'
© Yalonda M. James/Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA Press Wire
KEVIN ERIC LEWIS, a former furnace laborer at Gopher Resource, who worked for the company from 2009 to 2015, sits outside his home in Tampa. Lewis dealt with headaches and heart issues after constantly being exposed to lead during work at the factory.
© Martha Asencio Rhine/Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA Press Wire
Martha Asencio

My love of photography was born along with my first son, who I couldn't stop making pictures of with newly-available digital cameras, five megapixels top. I transitioned to making pictures of all my family, other families, a small wedding here or there. But the pros I admired were working in photojournalism and it was those types of photos I wanted to make. I went back to school in 2014 and got a degree in journalism. Now I'm thrilled to be the rookie photographer on the multimedia team for my hometown paper The Tampa Bay Times. I live in St. Petersburg with my husband, two sons and two geckos. Besides photography I love to dance, spend time outdoors and read novels.:838



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