Reporter looks beyond Flint’s lead headlines toward U.S. youth

Susan Heavey

About Susan Heavey

Susan Heavey, (@susanheavey) a Washington, D.C.-based journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on social determinants of health and curates related material at She welcomes questions and suggestions on resources and tip sheets at

Photo: Romain Blanquart, USA Today Network

Photo: Romain Blanquart, USA Today Network

The lead-tainted water in Flint, Mich., got one national reporter wondering: What other areas could have children affected by dangerous water?

Laura Ungar, who covers national and regional health stories for USA Today and Gannett, was part of a team looking at the wider implications of the water crisis in Flint to go beyond the Detroit suburb and seek what other areas could be facing unknown risks.

Her USA Today Network colleague, data journalist Mark Nichols, pulled out data on schools and day cares from the national news outlet’s larger database, allowing her to take a look at a unique subset of the population affected by potentially unsafe drinking water.

Her piece quickly got people’s attention.

After it ran earlier this year, several U.S. lawmakers proposed bills related to the water issues. Policymakers in New York state also took notice, putting forth a number of measures aimed at testing the water there and rebuilding infrastructure.

For Ungar, the story also showed how so many health stories – here, it was water and infrastructure – touch on issues of access and equality, she said.

“If you look at practically any health topic today, socioeconomic and racial disparities are an issue,” said Ungar, who is based in Louisville, Ky., at The Courier-Journal and has spent the past 10 years covering medical news.

Seem daunting? Ungar offers other journalists guidance and tips here for tackling major investigative pieces for the most impact.

(If you’ve written a story on how other factors can impact health that you think is worth a mention, email us at

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