2013 Australian Government Eureka Prize for Science Journalism

“The hidden cost of flooding” wins 4th Eureka for Ian Townsend.

An ABC radio report on levels of lead contamination found in flooded Queensland houses has won the 2013 Australian Museum Australian Government Eureka Prize for Science Journalism.

For his report into the 2010-2011 Queensland floods, journalist Ian Townsend commissioned toxicology tests on a typical flooded house. The tests showed high levels of lead washed out from paint flakes in soil and dust.

He reported his findings in Lead Poisoning: A Silent Epidemic, broadcast on Background Briefing on ABC Radio National in May 2012.

“Ian’s work drew urgent attention to the hidden costs and hazards of flooding – and sparked remedial action by local authorities,” the Director of the Australian Museum, Frank Howarth said. "And since its first broadcast his report has become all the more relevant because concern about lead poisoning has increased. The US, for instance, recently halved its recommended safe limit.”

The two other finalists for the prize were also broadcast by the ABC. The Checkout’s episode Super-foods, lived up to its name through investigating the hype surrounding purported ultra-healthy things to eat. It was produced by Jigsaw Dwarf. 

Plastic Oceans, a segment by Anja Taylor and Roslyn Lawrence on ABC TV’s long-running science series Catalyst, looked at micro-plastics in the marine environment.

New research is showing that these toxic particles can be ingested by animals right at the bottom of the food chain, adding to the danger plastic waste poses to other marine life and ultimately threatening our own health.

The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes reward excellence in the fields of research and innovation, leadership and commercialisation, science journalism and communication, and school science. This year the 17 sponsored prizes include awards for agriculture, defence, infectious diseases and innovative use of technology.

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Kea Lambert , Project Officer, Eureka Prizes
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