Polluted Prisons are Endangering Inmates


According to an investigation by Earth Island Journal and Truthout, environmental hazards have a massive effect on a marginalized group, the incarcerated.

The report indicates that prisons are often located in areas known as environmental hazards.  Approximately 600 federal and state prisons are located within three miles of a Superfund site on the National Priorities List, and more than 100 of those are just one mile from a site.

A Superfund site is any land in the United States that has been contaminated by hazardous waste and identified by the EPA as a candidate for cleanup because it poses a risk to human health and the environment.  These sites are placed on the National Priorities List NPL).

According to Paul Wright, the executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center,  “When trees have been cut down…and everything has been contaminated and poisoned in the process, the final solution is, okay now we’re going to build a prison here.”

A rural prison built in Pennsylvania was built on one of the largest coal preparation plants in the world. By the time the plant was abandoned, 40 tons of coal refuse had been dumped along with contaminants such as arsenic and mercury.  Then in 1996, the site was purchased by a company that began dumping coal ash.  Coal Ash contains high concentrations of mercury, lead, arsenic, and other heavy metals and minerals and can result in respiratory problems, heart problems, brain damage, and various types of cancer.

The site was chosen for a prison, and the 2,000 inmates housed there began to complain of respiratory problems, kidney failures, and different types of cancer.

In California, inmates are getting sick from an illness called Valley Fever, which is caused by a fungus fund in the soil, and spread by breathing in dust particles.


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