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An investigative piece into toxic air around America’s schools has garnered a 2009 John B. Oakes Award for two USA TODAY reporters.

The Columbia Graduate School of Journalism announced today that Blake Morrison and Brad Heath will be the recipients of this year’s Oakes Award, which honors excellence in environmental journalism. The award recognizes the reporters’ work on the investigative series “The Smokestack Effect: Toxic Air and America’s Schools” and it’s companion Web site, which allows readers to search for their schools and discover the level of toxic air in its area. The series resulted in the Environmental Protection Agency launching a $2.25 million program to monitor the air quality around schools.

“By yoking the locations of private and pubic schools around the country with an EPA model for tracking toxic chemicals, the reporters identified hundreds of schools where children seemed to be at risk,” the Oakes Award judges’ said. “As a result, the EPA and local environmental agencies began to do what they should have been doing for years: paying attention to the environment in which our children live and learn.”

Second prize has been awarded to The New York Times series “Toxic Waters” written by Charles Duhigg.

The winners will receive their awards and speak on a panel about their work at the Oakes Award luncheon on March 30 at Columbia.

Full release after the jump

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