PublicSource

PublicSource is an independent, nonprofit news group that focuses on original investigative reporting about critical issues facing Pittsburgh and the Western Pennsylvania region. It was launched to undertake in-depth reporting in the public interest.

​PublicSource is a content partner of 90.5 WESA.

More about PublicSource here.

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:34 pm
Mon July 22, 2013

Donora Plant Houses Huge Volumes of Ammonium Nitrate Fertilizer

Credit Martha Rial / PublicSource

After 30 tons of fertilizer detonated in West, Texas last April, investigators are looking into the cause of the explosion that killed fifteen people, including twelve firefighters and emergency responders.  PublicSource reporter Bill Heltzel has been investigating chemical plant Dyno Nobel in Donora, PA, and gauging the town’s understanding of hazardous substance safety.  United Steel Workers safety officer Kim Nibarger represents union workers at the plant.

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PublicSource
3:30 am
Sun July 21, 2013

Explosives Maker In PA Has 400 Times More Ammonia Than West, Texas, Plant

Rob Sickles with his son Spencer, 3, on the street between his home and the Dyno Nobel plant in Donora.
Credit Martha Rial

On April 17, when 30 tons of fertilizer detonated in West, Texas, a shock wave traveling faster than the speed of sound crushed homes. Windows shattered seven miles away. The United States Geological Survey recorded a 2.1 magnitude tremor from the blast.
 
Fifteen people died, 12 of them firefighters and emergency responders, and 200 were injured.

The same chemical that blew up West — ammonium nitrate — is manufactured in Donora, Pa., 20 miles south of Pittsburgh.

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Essential Pittsburgh
8:17 pm
Thu July 11, 2013

Reporting Wage Violations at Pennsylvania Hotels

The Fairmont Hotel Pittsburgh
Credit Martha Rial / PublicSource


Pennsylvania ranks fourth in the country -- behind Texas, Alabama and Florida -- for the number of hotels with labor law violations, according to the Department of Labor and a recent PublicSource story. This includes wage and child labor violations.

PublicSource Reporter Leah Samuel says because many hotel workers are low skilled and in the hospitality industry, where tips may be given, they’re especially vulnerable to wage violations.

“In Pennsylvania, you can actually pay someone as low as $2.83 an hour if they receive tips,”  Samuel explains. So even if a hotel worker normally gets paid at or above the minimum wage, when it comes to overtime, the rate might be 1.5 times that $2.83, which is illegal.

“It’s supposed to be 1.5 times the regular wage they would receive, minus something called the ‘tip credit’.”

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Essential Pittsburgh
6:30 pm
Tue June 11, 2013

Pittsburgh Public Housing Shortage

Nearly 23,000 people are on the wait list for public housing in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. Including 51 year old Yvonne Smith, who waited 6 months for a low income apartment
Credit Halle Stockton / PublicSource

Pittsburgh's city housing authority recently closed the waitlist for the majority of public housing properties. This is the  first time in 17 years this has happened and reflects the critical shortage of public housing in the city and Allegheny County.

Reporter Halle Stockton has written about this issue for our content partner Public Source and joins us to look at this issue.

Essential Pittsburgh
6:07 pm
Fri May 24, 2013

The Right To Know and Pennsylvania's Open Records Law

Where do we stand with PA's Right to Know law?
Credit 90.5 WESA

Pennsylvania's open records law went into effect in 2009, ideally making it possible for citizens to easily search government records. But some say it hasn't made good on its promise of accessibility. WESA Capitol Correspondent Mary Wilson has written about tweaks to the law being proposed in the legislature, and those who have violated it.

Leah Samuel recently took an in depth look at the status of PA's open records law for PublicSource, including anecdotes from citizens who have been thwarted in their search for information.

Pennsylvania Office of Open Records Executive Director, Terry Mutchler says citizen requests should not be denied.

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Essential Pittsburgh
12:01 am
Wed May 1, 2013

Finding Pittsburgh's Light Rail

Light Rail stops in the Free Zone, such as the sleekly designed Gateway Station Downtown, are highly visible
Emily DeMarco PublicSource

  Roughly 28,000 people ride the Pittsburgh area’s light-rail system every day. But many more could be using and funding the system if the stops were easier to access. Inspired by a study from the Center for Transit-Oriented Development, PublicSource reporter, Emily DeMarco embarked on a tour of the Port Authority's 52 T-stops. She took photos, gathered audio and asked commuters what they think of the light-rail system.

Veterans Affairs
3:30 am
Sun April 28, 2013

After Guns and Grenades, PA Veterans Claims Delayed

Dan Blevins, 29, of Carnegie is one of more than 10,000 veterans in Pennsylvania who has been waiting more than a year for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to rule on disability claims.
Credit PublicSource

Dan Blevins, 29, of Carnegie is one of more than 10,000 veterans in Pennsylvania who has been waiting more than a year for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to rule on disability claims.
 
In Afghanistan, Blevins jumped from a Humvee onto an icy dirt road and broke his right foot. Even after surgery, he has days when it is too painful to walk.
 
Since duty in Iraq, he gets migraines that feel as if  “somebody is taking a hammer to my head.”
 
Because of too many bombs, guns and grenades, he has tinnitus that he believes has cut his hearing by half.

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Public Records
3:30 am
Sun April 21, 2013

The Right to Know, or the Right to No?

Credit Alexandra Kanik / PublicSource

After getting a parking ticket at Pittsburgh International Airport, a driver requested a copy of the Allegheny Police Department’s report of the incident. The department didn’t respond.

A parent asked the Ligonier Valley School District for documents detailing planned teacher layoffs. The school district said it had no such documents.

A reporter asked Middle Smithfield Township for maps of local sewer lines. The township refused to turn them over, saying that could jeopardize the security of the sewage system.

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PublicSource
8:43 am
Sun April 14, 2013

PA Investigates Former Teacher 14 years After Charges

August 2008 mug shot of David Scott Zimmerman.
Credit Photo provided by the Allegheny County Jail

Fourteen years after a Vincentian Academy coach and teacher was forced to resign over allegations of sexual misconduct with basketball players, the Pennsylvania Department of Education is questioning former athletes who played for him.

David Scott Zimmerman, 46, of O’Hara is the subject of the investigation, according to one of his former athletes. He said a state investigator contacted him to verify his story.

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Agriculture
9:29 am
Fri March 22, 2013

Bill Would Limit Whistleblower Activities on PA Farms

The Humane Society conducted an undercover investigation in 2012 at Kreider Farms in Manheim, Pa. Kreider cages about seven million egg-laying hens at its four Pennsylvania facilities.
Credit The Humane Society of the U.S.

Chickens crammed into wire cages next to the rotting carcasses of other chickens.  The floor of a barn coated with flies. Hens with their heads jammed between cages and feeding machines.

The Humane Society of the U.S. released a video last year depicting those conditions at what it said was Kreider Farms in Manheim, Pa., in Lancaster County.

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Environment & Energy
10:39 am
Mon March 11, 2013

Old Diesel Equipment Still Spewing Soot Into Pittsburgh's Air

Morry Feldman takes a cocktail of medications each day that allow him to live and work in a region with poor air quality.
Credit Emily DeMarco/PublicSource

Morry Feldman downs two horse pills with breakfast. Then, he uses four different sprays. Two puffs into the mouth.  Two into the nose. Repeat at dinner.

Feldman, 59, has severe asthma and allergies. And Pittsburgh is among the worst places he could live or work because of the region’s poor air quality.

“If I miss a dose, I start to get sick,” said Feldman, a senior account executive at WQED Multimedia.

Feldman is one of nearly 97,000 adults in Allegheny County with asthma.

The county received F’s in the American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2012 study.

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PublicSource
12:22 pm
Mon February 25, 2013

Where Is All The PA Lottery Money Going?

This unidentified man looks over his lottery ticket to see if he is due a prize.
Credit David Bennett

When Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane ruled that Gov. Tom Corbett’s contract for private management of the state lottery was illegal, proponents of privatization shot back that Kane’s decision meant a loss of an additional $50 million for senior services.

Advocates said that having a private company running the lottery would increase receipts and eliminate growing waiting lists for senior services, which, by law, are supported by a percentage of lottery funds.

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