Based on a new investigation, the health of many of the United States prisoners is being affected by polluted prisons throughout the nation.
Nearly 600 federal and state prisons are built within three miles of an environmentally contaminated site, and more than 100 of those are only one mile from a site on the National Priorities List, according to a Mother Jones article that reported on the findings of Earth Island Journal and Truthout.
“When trees have been cut down … and everything has been contaminated and poisoned in the process, the final solution is OK, now we’re going to build a prison here,” Paul Wright, the executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center, a nonprofit that advocates for prisoners’ rights, told the Earth Island Journal.
In California, many prisoners are at risk of getting sick from valley fever, a flu-like sickness caused by a fungus found in the soil of the state’s central valley and spread by breathing in dust particles.
People of color are more at risk of contracting the disease, and there are disproportionately more of them incarcerated and many prisons are located in areas where valley fever is endemic.
More than 3,500 inmates in California have contracted valley fever. More than 50 of those cases proved fatal, noted the article.
Prisoners in California aren’t the only ones facing health risks. The Pennsylvania State Correctional Institute-Fayette was opened in 2003 on what had been an enormous coal preparation plant.
By the mid-1990s, 40 million tons of coal refuse had been dumped there, along with coal ash, which contains high amounts of arsenic, mercury, lead and other heavy metals and minerals.
All these contaminants can lead to respiratory and heart problems, brain and liver damage, different cancers, and more, the article noted.
Many inmates housed there began to suffer from respiratory problems, kidney failure and cancer.
A 2014 report conducted by a public-interest law firm discovered that of the 17 prisoners who died between 2010 and 2013, 11 died of cancer.
Of the 75 prisoners surveyed, 81 percent said they suffered from respiratory, throat and sinus conditions, 68 percent experienced stomach problems, and more than half said they had adverse skin conditions, according to the article.
There are other environmental issues plaguing U.S. prisons — many institutions fall below the standard of safe drinking water.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s enforcement database reported that more than 1,100 informal actions and 78 formal actions were brought up against prisons, jails and detention centers under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
According to the authors of the database, “It’s possible that many more violations simply aren’t reported.”