January 17, 2008 - Prison Legal News (US)
Prison Drinking Water and Wastewater Pollution Threaten Environmental Safety Nationwide
by John E. Dannenberg
Aging infrastructure concerns are not limited to America's highways, bridges and dams. Today, crumbling, overcrowded prisons and jails nationwide are bursting at the seams -- literally -- leaking environmentally dangerous effluents not just inside prisons, but also into local rivers, water tables and community water supplies. Because prisons are inherently detested and ignored institutions, the hidden menace of pollution from them has stayed below the radar. In this report, PLN exposes the magnitude and extent of the problem from data collected over the past several years from seventeen states.
The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) has been ignoring complaints of wastewater pollution from its prisons since 1991. Back then, the problem was limited to leaking sewage from the St. Clair prison. Although the Alabama Legislature promised to provide the $2.3 million needed to build a new wastewater treatment plant that would match St. Clair's vastly expanded population, no money has been appropriated.
Today, the problem has grown statewide and includes pollution from ADOC's Draper, Elmore, Fountain/Holman, Limestone prisons and the Farcquhar Cattle Ranch and Red Eagle Honor Farm. The problem has drawn the ire of the private watchdog group, Black Warrior Riverkeeper (BWR) and of the state Attorney General (AG), both of whom have filed lawsuits against ADOC. The AG's office claims ADOC is violating the Alabama Water Pollution Control Act (Act) by dumping raw sewage into Little Canoe Creek, from which it flows into the Coosa River. The AG has demanded that ADOC fix the problems and pay fines for the damage they have caused. All parties acknowledge that the problems stem from ADOC's doubling of its population to 28,000, while the wastewater treatment facilities were designed for less than half that number. The environmental damage is huge. ADOC is pumping extremely high levels of toxic ammonia, fecal coliform, viruses, and parasites into local streams and rivers. When raw sewage hits clean water, it sucks up the available dissolved oxygen to aid decomposition. But in so doing, it asphyxiates aquatic plants and animals that depend on that oxygen. Telltale disaster signs include rising water temperatures and the appearance of algae blooms. The pollution renders public waterways unfit for human recreation as well.
BWR notes in its suit that Donaldson State Prison has committed 1,060 violations of the Clean Water Act since 1999, dumping raw sewage into Big Branch and Valley creeks, and thence into the Black Warrior River. BWR seeks fines for the violations, which could range from $100 to $25,000 each. Peak overflows were documented at 808,000 gallons in just one day, which isn't surprising for a wastewater treatment plant designed to handle a maximum of 270,000 gallons per day. Donaldson, designed to hold only 990 prisoners, has 1,500 today.
One path to reformation was found in turning over wastewater treatment to privately-run local community water treatment districts. Donaldson came into compliance with its wastewater permit after contracting with Alabama Utility Services in 2005. Limestone and other ADOC prisons are now seeking privatization solutions.
Since 2000, eight of California's 33 state prisons have been cited for major water pollution problems. Folsom State Prison, originally built in 1880 on 1,200 acres, was fined $700,000 in 2000 for a massive 700,000 gallon sewage spill into the adjacent American River. The prison is the City of Folsom's largest client, contributing 20% of its sewage plant's input. In 2003, a $20 million sewage system upgrade was undertaken which tripled the average city user's monthly fee. But Folsom Prison kept its $1,500 monthly 1973 negotiated rate, while adding a new level IV prison. Now with 7,100 prisoners and 2,800 staff to support, the system was overloading the city's processing capability. The prison agreed in 2003 to increase its payment to $7,500 -- but this still only amounted to 2.7% of the sewage district's income. Nonetheless, the upgraded city facility has reduced sewage spillages into the American River from 100 per year to 20. A separate water pollution source from the Old Folsom prison is toxic waste from the old scrap metal area, drum storage area, industrial manufacturing area, and the firing range. In 2005, 17,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil were removed to clean up 5.5 acres of prison property. Nearby wells still show excessive levels of contaminants and are unsuitable for drinking water.
At the California Men's Colony state prison (CMC) in the parched city of San Luis Obispo, a World-War II vintage wastewater system spilled over 220,000 gallons of raw sewage in 2004, for which CMC was fined $600,000 by the regional water quality control district. This followed a citywide record of 450 documented spills in the previous five years -- one quarter of which were attributed to CMC. Some of the effluent flowed into nearby Morro Bay, a protected wildlife sanctuary. Four miles of replacement sewer lines were installed in a $20 million upgrade in 2005, but not before 30,000 more gallons spewed into Chorro Creek, resulting in another $33,000 fine. A prison spokesman stated that one problem has been that CMC prisoners flush large objects, such as blankets, down the toilets. The new larger pipes, coupled with limited toilet flushes, are expected to mitigate this cause of sewage spills. Ironically, water district inspectors flushed out one operator at CMC for falsifying spillage reports. He went to jail.
Salinas Valley State Prison, a new 1996 maximum security prison near environmentally sensitive Monterey Bay, was found in June 2004 to have its well contaminated by nitrates that were leaching in from nearby fertilized agricultural fields. While awaiting a new water filtration system, prisoners were restricted to just a few cups of water per day for all purposes, later increased to 64 ounces, toilet flushes every three hours, and three-minute showers.
The Sierra Conservation Center state prison in gold-country Jamestown had its water filtration system overcome by silt washed down from unusually heavy rains in January 2005. Water to the prison was cut by one-third, compensated for by no showers for two days and the use of disposable food trays. Additionally, laundry was sent to other prisons, drinking water was trucked in, and 90 portable toilets were installed. In August 2004, 20 prisoners at the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco came down with a stomach illness traced to the bacterium Heliobacter pylori. Prisoners blamed it on visibly brown water coming from prison water pipes, but staff denied that the source of the outbreak was the water, which was tested twice weekly. They claimed it came from poor prisoner personal hygiene, since H. pylori is a common organism that lives in the gut of 50% of all persons.
But that explanation didn't wash when there was a Campylobacter bacterial outbreak at the Deuel Vocational Institution state prison in Tracy in 2006, which knocked 379 prisoners off their feet. The spread was traced to contaminated food and water, according to prison spokesperson Terry Thornton. Similar outbreaks occurred at the same time in Mule Creek State Prison (106 cases) and Valley State Prison for Women (40 cases). One particularly troublesome water pollutant is nitrate from fertilizer, commonly found when prisons are located near agricultural areas. The California Institution for Men (CIM) in Chino needed a nitrate filtration system to overcome decades of prior agricultural contamination. As a result, CIM staff workers drank only bottled water, but the prisoners had no such option. Excessive nitrate levels can be fatally toxic, but are particularly troubling for pregnant women such as at the nearby California Institution for Women (CIW) state prison. There, prison officials spent $43,520 per month since 2001 on bottled water and ice for the female prisoners, pending completion of a $6.5 million denitrification plant.
Mule Creek State Prison (MCSP) was cited for excess chemicals in the local water table traced to its dry cleaning plant. Poisoning of local wells may cause a shutdown of the dry cleaning program, where prisoners clean guards' uniforms. Originally "sold" to the local community as a 1,700 bed facility, MCSP has grown to 4,383, with another 400 beds slated for the state's 2007 prison expansion plan. Locals are furious, but can't shut down California's appetite for more prison beds. The actual Mule Creek itself, which dries up in the summers, has had potholes of stinking sewage water perfuming the area frequently. After first denying that the prison was responsible, prison spokesman Eric Reyes admitted that they had spilled 20,000 gallons into the creek. The underlying problem lies in the numbers. MCSP's water treatment plant was designed to treat 740,000 gallons of sewage, but currently averages 900,000 gallons. Julio Guerra, manager of the nearby city of Ione's wastewater treatment plant, found MCSP's system "hopelessly overloaded." In October 2006, Governor Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency related to prison overcrowding, in which he noted, among other issues, the contamination of public lands from spilled prison wastewater. But all that has come from this so far is an interim plan to build more prison beds at existing prisons -- a sure way to exacerbate wastewater treatment plant overloading.
The problem is not confined to prisons. On October 11, 2007, 400 current and former Merced county jail employees filed claims against the county claiming that the jail's water system has unsafe levels of arsenic in it. The jail's prisoners are not included in the claim, the first step towards filing a lawsuit.
Raw sewage from pipes underneath the Miami-Dade County Jail has been sickening prisoners and guards for years. In April 2006, two supervisors at the 47-year-old pretrial detention facility on NW 13th St. were taken to an outside hospital emergency room, suffering from dizziness, nausea and headaches. In the preceding month, guards had to go to the jail's infirmary 14 times for similar complaints. County inspectors found that the air was "not toxic" -- just unpleasant. But when the air-conditioning fails, the problem is magnified.
The problem stems from leaking pipes in a 4 foot high crawl space underneath the jail. Remedies have been to install fans to ventilate the space. When the failing pipes are repaired, leaks just spring up elsewhere. To combat the repugnant odors, deodorizing chemicals are used to mask the stench. Until $47 million in bonds is approved for jail upgrades, the problem will remain. Also remaining is the possibility that raw sewage seeping from floor drains will contaminate the kitchen, a county task-force report warned. In June 2006, 45 prisoners and three staff workers were felled by suspected bad cold cuts and spaghetti that came from the kitchen; five were hospitalized. County health inspectors found improper food storage temperatures and ordered the kitchen shut. No new illnesses were reported after that, until November 2006, when 22-year-old Honduran native prisoner Arlin Madrid- Reyes died of salmonella poisoning three days after being hospitalized.
"This is the same kitchen where food is prepared to feed staff," said an anonymous county worker (staff are prohibited from speaking to the media). Eighteen other prisoners fell ill at the same time. The kitchen serves more than 17,000 meals daily to the 5,200 prisoners -- three times its design capacity. A health department report noted the sewage contamination possibility, aggravated by the lack of air- conditioning in the food preparation and storage areas. Madrid- Reyes' attorney Michael Bloom is considering a lawsuit. Meanwhile, in March 2007, jail director Tim Ryan announced a clean up, consisting of removing rust from refrigerators and doors and cleaning grease-caked ovens. He admitted that Madrid- Reyes' death served as an "awakening" to the jail's responsibilities of ensuring the health of prisoners and staff.
Florida's Orange County jail is connected to the municipal wastewater treatment facility via a five-mile long sewage pipe. Lately, neighbors have been complaining of bad odors from the facility. Some have added air conditioning to their homes to avoid the fumes that had entered previously open windows. The local sanitation engineer noted that although sewage volume has not increased, temperatures have, and the effluent stews in the long pipe before being treated. A deodorizer is added from time to time to quash the complaints, but it only masks, not eliminates, the noxious gases.
In April 2006, Fulton County's jail was forced by raw sewage spills to relocate female prisoners into already overcrowded sections of the facility, where they either slept on the floor or were triple-celled. This occurred despite a standing federal court order dictating improvements to the dilapidated jail. But prisoners reported that raw sewage followed them, spewing from floor drains and toilets even in the relocation areas. "It's overflowing from the top of the toilets and water is also coming out the bottom of them," reported prisoner Valtriana Estrada, adding, "It stinks like hell." Sheriff Myron Freeman refused media calls on the problem, but his lawyer admitted there "were plumbing problems." Indeed, the problems began in a first-tier cellblock in the north tower, and continued on the second tier, according to an investigator for the Southern Center for Human Rights, which is suing over jail conditions.
Tempers climbed with the leaks, which rose to the fourth tier with ankle-deep water containing feces. The jail's response was to cut off water for a week, ending showers for prisoners. What water later flowed from faucets was brown and smelled/tasted bad. Southern Center investigator Mary Kelly said the bad water was from rusting and failing water lines, while sewage problems stemmed from unregulated fluctuations in water pressure. The federal court's January 2006 order demanded improvements and prohibited triple-celling or sleeping on the floors. Jail officials failed to notify the court of their deviation from court orders. The problem had grown to 265 female prisoners crowded into a second-tier cellblock -- 100 more than available bed space. Prisoner Susan Withers, first moved from a medical unit, was later moved five times in one week because of feces floating out of toilets and drains. Half of the toilets simply did not work. And in one zone, 65 women prisoners shared one shower and two toilets. But the showers were clogged, too, forcing prisoners to urinate in the drains when they couldn't get to the toilets.
"The mood is very, very tense," said Withers. Sheriff Freeman subsequently wrote federal judge Marvin Shoob that "prisoners were never living in or housed in" areas flooded by sewage. He said that a problem had been found and repaired, and that while repairs were being implemented, he used "short term options" for moving prisoners around. But in May 2006, jail records showed that Judge Shoob"s population cap order of 2,250 was being exceeded by 200 to 300 prisoners. Nor did Sheriff Freeman meet court-ordered staffing levels. The 18year-old jail was designed to house 1,400 prisoners. When suit was brought in 2003, there were 3,000 prisoners in the jail. No wonder sewage was overflowing.
In a 17-page 2007 report by the Indiana Department of Corrections, serious environmental contamination problems were identified in the Marion County Community Corrections Center. The report noted feces leaking from toilets into latrines and leaking water/sewage inside the building being diverted into open gutters. Additionally, there was serious mold contamination in the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system (often a source of Legionnaire's Disease).
Fecal-oral contamination was promoted by requiring the prisoners, who had no washer or dryer, to wash their soiled clothing in restroom sinks. State Representative Mike Murphy, R-Indianapolis, called the report "devastating" and something worthy of interest to Human Rights Watch. "In a normal situation, a health department would come in, shut this place down immediately and transfer these people to a safe environment," he added. But the irony of his concern is that apparently, "devastating(ly) (ab)normal" health conditions are tolerable if it is prisoners who are impacted. Kenneth Falk, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said he had toured the facility within the past year and was "appalled."
"It's absolutely horrendous. I certainly think they violate the Constitution." ... "It's a warehouse of human beings. It can't be a surprise to anyone who spends more than two minutes in that building that there are some serious problems," said Falk. Marion"s director Brian Barton was with Falk then and stated that he "was working on" the problems.
While most prison wastewater treatment failures stem from decaying, overloaded systems, Kentucky's new $92 million federal Little Sandy Correctional Complex had big problems from the day it opened in 2005. Although the local town of Sandy Hook (pop. 1,100) enjoyed the prospect of 224 new jobs the prison created, residents were quick to complain of an overwhelming stench that went "all over town." Prison spokeswoman Maleva Chamberlain stated that the sewer lines were too large. What happens is that without adequate flow, the sewage just sits in the line and "goes septic," she stated. Although she reported it would work properly when the prison was at full design capacity, this hasn't proven true. When Little Sandy reached its 961-prisoner capacity on November 1, 2005, the town was still stuck with the bill for odor-killing chemicals to quell the offensive fumes.
Two MCI-Shirley prisoners came down with Legionnaire's Disease in April 2007. The illness is caused by a bacterium that is inhaled in fine water droplets associated with moldy water or ventilation systems. It attacks the lungs, with symptoms -- high fever, chills and a dry cough -- similar to pneumonia. Although most victims recover quickly with antibiotic treatment, the disease can be fatal in 5 to 30 percent of diagnosed cases. The infection was quickly traced by prison inspectors to contaminated water pipes in one 114-man housing unit of MCI-Shirley's 13 units. The fix was to flush all water pipes with 173-degree water for ten minutes, followed by sterilization of all shower heads, faucets and sinks. No further cases occurred thereafter.
Legionnaire's Disease got its name from an outbreak at a 1976 American Legion convention in Philadelphia, where 34 of 221 infected died. Annually, 8,000 to 18,000 Americans are hospitalized with this illness. Common sources of the disease are air-conditioning units, whirlpool spas and plumbing systems.
Hepatitis-A is a common infection spread by poor hygiene in food service facilities. At one module in the Worcester County Jail, two prisoners came down with the disease in 2005. It is typically passed on via feces, and can be spread through ingestion of sewage-contaminated water -- the bane of many older jails. This was precisely the worry that caused Essex County Sheriff to evacuate his Lawrence jail in May 2006 when rising flood waters caused sewage backups. Lawrence's 151 minimum- security prisoners were temporarily housed at the city-owned Jewish Community Center.
Legionnaire's Disease was also found in a Hagerstown prison's water supply in late 2006. The discovery came after a just-released 56-year-old Roxbury Correctional Institution prisoner came down with it. While it was possible he contracted the illness elsewhere in the three days following his release (incubation period is 2-10 days), his illness spurred immediate testing at the 1,750-man prison. Contamination was detected both in the water supply and in an air conditioner in one housing unit for 200 prisoners. For two weeks, prisoners and staff were put on bottled water and showers were banned while more testing was done, although no testing was done at any other Maryland state prisons.
Eighteen prisoners at the St. Louis and Mid Michigan Correctional Facility are suing the prison system in U.S. District court over unconstitutional living conditions, including contaminated drinking water. In May 2005, the Michigan Department of Water Quality announced that it had found p-CBSA (a byproduct of the long-banned insecticide DDT) in the city of St. Louis' drinking water. As a result, all St. Louis schools switched to bottled water, but when prison officials in the three St. Louis prisons were told of the contamination, they did nothing for the prisoners. As a result, the prisoners claim that they were poisoned by it in both the water and the food prepared with that water. However, it was lately reported that in March 2006, St. Louis shut down the contaminated city wells and no longer required schoolchildren to drink bottled water.
Prison officials at the South Woods State Prison were in hot water because their prisoners were without any. While the prison was only eight years old, it's hot water piping system was misdesigned by simply burying the pipes under 20 feet of soil with no maintenance access. Acidic soil ate through the pipes, and the specter of the multi-millions of dollars to replace this entire infrastructure is daunting. The pipes carry 325-degree steam for heating buildings and water. When the hot water went down and the visiting room was closed, the prisoners staged a short hunger strike to protest. The interim solution was to bring in local hot water heaters and to contract with an outside laundry service. Ken Gaburo, a prison operations engineer, questioned the faulty design as early as 1998, but officials were in too much of a hurry to get the prison built. Now, contractors may be held liable for repairs.
Smelly sewage backups in the Grants, New Mexico Women's Correctional Facility finally hit the fan. The ACLU filed suit in April 2006 to correct this and other overcrowding problems at the prison. The sewage backups in the living areas are so had that guards have to wear masks. Private prison operator Corrections Corporation of America stated that this is an occasional problem, and that when backups occur, it is cleaned up. The facility was designed in 1989 to house 200 female prisoners, but housed 664 as of April 12, 2006. It is not known if the sewage treatment capability was upgraded to match the population increase.
More Legionnaire's Disease surfaced at New York City's Rikers Island Jail. Two prisoners at the Otis Bantum Correctional Center were diagnosed in October 2005 with the Legionellus bacterium. Because this bacterium is often found in plumbing systems, crews disinfected the jail's showerheads and chlorinated the hot water tanks. The Department of Public Health continued to monitor the health of other prisoners as well as prison staff, to stem any larger outbreak. The two prisoners, aged 25 and 44, were successfully treated with antibiotics.
Sheriff Gene Kelly of Springfield's Clark County Jail declared a state of emergency in July 2006 and evacuated 45 prisoners to Miami and Logan County jails when major flood damage to his jail caused three inches of sewage to float on the floor. Remaining prisoners were given the delectable task of scrubbing down the floors, while sleeping in the chapel. Kelly opined that the sewage spill was traceable to overcrowded conditions, since the Clark County Jail was designed to hold only 175 prisoners but housed 275 at the time.
The potential for sewage treatment problems surfaced in legal arguments trying to keep a Cornell Corrections, Inc.-owned juvenile offender prison in New Morgan from opening. Cornell opened its 214-bed Abraxus Academy in October 2000, but it was closed in October 2002 following a record of six escapes and fourteen sexual assaults. It reopened in October 2006 with sixteen low-level sex offenders. However, in U.S. district court, New Morgan defended against further expansion by Cornell until it met earlier requirements that included addressing zoning issues. In particular, New Morgan asserted that Cornell violated a 1999 sewage agreement that required Cornell to build a sewage plant, subject to Cornell being repaid over ten years from city user fees. The rub is that although the plant is operating, it is allegedly not functional. New Morgan hopes to preempt spillage into the already sensitive landfill area that Abraxus is built on.
Marlin, Texas is defending a lawsuit from prisoners at its Hobby Unit who allege, among other things, that water contamination at the women's prison has caused serious medical injuries. The affidavits in support of their complaint are compelling.
Plaintiff Helen Caples stated that when Marlin's water was contaminated in 2003, Hobby prisoners were restricted to three six-ounce cups of water per day for all purposes; toilet flushes were non-existent. While porta-potties were provided, "the toilets in our cells were backed up with urine and feces while foul flies and gnats had started to surface.... we were like this for three to four days. ... The problem originally began years ago." She further complained in her pleadings that the pipes, which were due for replacement, were never worked on. In addition, the reservoir supplying Hobby's water contains mercury, dead catfish and sewage water. Without a filtration system for potable water, the water is unfit for human use. Caples went on to complain that serious and fatal illnesses were traceable to bad water and hygiene at Hobby, including widespread H. pylori bacterial infections. Showers have maggots, rats run from cell to cell and birds fly in and out of the chow hall, leaving droppings on the tables. During 100-106 degree heat waves in the summer of 2004, there were six suicides and four heat-related deaths.
Hobby prisoner Jessica Garza reported repeated dizziness, headaches and stomach sickness when drinking the tap water. Kelly Courtney alleged the same, plus cramps and diarrhea.
In solidarity with the women prisoners at Hobby, the Texoma Coalition took up their cause and helped publicize their plight.
Separately, the 30-year-old Nueces County Jail in Corpus Christi was experiencing repeated clogged toilets and low water pressure. The jail used to also house 55 federal prisoners, but the U.S. Marshals Service removed them because they did not approve of the jail's conditions. The Sheriff lamented not the criticism of his jail's conditions, but the loss of $1 million in revenue from the Marshals Service. The remaining jail prisoners were left to deal with reported conditions of gnats in the showers and toilets, rampant staph infections, non-flushing toilets and failed water taps. A panel of eight federal district judges, when hearing testimony of the problems in a July 2006 hearing, ordered Sheriff Rebecca Stutts to take "immediate action."
They called an emergency meeting, closed to the press, where they reviewed 40 photographs of jail conditions and also observed one woman who was covered in bites that she got at the jail. One judge stated that "it looked like a Third World country, shocking." Stutts testified that they were in compliance with Texas regulations. The Public Works director reported that in the previous three months over 200 work orders for the jail had not been completed.
Eight prisoners testified in the June 2006 hearing, making more complaints of vermin, bugs and lack of water. Stutts countered that the critters had been exterminated. But 24,000 prisoners per year going through that jail are finding out otherwise. Court enforcement appears to be required to bring about change.
An old laundry detergent advertising jingle ended, "and the dirt goes down the drain." That is precisely what Goochland County environmental officials suspect is happening with laundry effluent from the 540-prisoner Virginia Correctional Center for Women, where frequent foam and high phosphorus levels have been observed in the adjacent James River. The foam, showing up by the Huguenot Bridge in nearby Richmond, contained phosphorus at 22 times the average level. Phosphorus is a chemical used in laundry detergent. When excessive, it results in algae blooms and the attendant oxygen starvation of aquatic life. Such a bloom was discovered at Hopewell in June 2006, along the James River. Although Virginia banned the use of phosphates in home laundry detergents in 1987, it permitted commercial laundries to continue to use it. The prison is one such user, and it is suspect as the source of the contamination. State environmental officials were examining wastewater discharge from the prison's treatment plant to determine its contribution to the problem.
The Washington State Department of Corrections (WDOC) has been the source of considerable exasperation on the part of the watchdog state Department of Ecology (DOE), which has hounded, excoriated and fined WDOC to try to gain compliance with egregious wastewater and pollution violations. Indeed, in 2004, DOE fined WDOC $60,000 for falsifying water pollution reports.
This incident occurred at the McNeil Island Correction Center, where from 1999 to 2002, 20 of 36 water pollution reports were falsified. The reports covered up excess fecal coliform levels in the daily 350,000 gallon wastewater byproduct that was generally not fit for discharge into Puget Sound. When discovered in 2002, the false reporting resulted in putting the plant operator on paid administrative leave. As a result, the taxpayers had to pay his $40,000 salary, pay the $60,000 fine, but didn't get any investment in improved treatment plant equipment. The water system was flushed to eliminate the coliform, which was traced to a ground beef processing plant on the island. Prisoners were given bottled water for a week.
Walla Walla State Penitentiary (WSP) managed to fight, rather than repair, its pollution of the City of Walla Walla's air and water for fourteen years. It turned a blind eye to the damage, while continuing to evade any meaningful changes. Hazardous waste dumped indiscriminately into the local environment included naphtha, antifreeze, refrigerants, perchloroethylene, lacquer thinner, methylene chloride, and photochemicals. As far back as 1992, WSP was cited for discharging the above items into a storm drain, plus human waste, hospital waste and medical needles into a landfill at Sudbury. Later reports included diesel spills, tetrachloroethylene and known cancer-causing trichloroethylene, adversely affecting 17 groundwater wells serving over 10,000 citizens within two miles downstream. In 2002, DOE's complaints turned to wildly excessive toxic metal waste discharges, including zinc, copper, and mercury. The latter was at 100 times the permitted level for discharge. On-site WSP inspections additionally revealed leaking transformers, open sewer pipe remnants and asbestos steam pipe sections. At last report (see PLN, July ?05, p.1), WDOC was still fighting DOE by paying fines rather than self- policing and upgrading their waste discharge processing.
Pollution Is a Bad Policy
Bad public water is a Third World malady. It shouldn't happen in America. And although it rarely does, increasingly it is coming from the excess secretions spewing from overloaded and under maintained prison and jail wastewater treatment systems. Unless and until local governments shoulder their civic responsibility to environmentally upgrade long-ignored incarceration facilities, America's neighboring rivers and streams may become as vile as the mythical river Styx flowing from Hades -- for some of the same reasons.
As a practical matter, prisons and jails cannot exist without water. Shut down the water supply and the prison and jail isn't far behind. In the past, prisoners have filed lawsuits over contaminated water under the Eighth amendment. These cases have historically dragged on for years with no conclusive resolution. The federal Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. § 1251 provides for a means to challenge both contaminated drinking water coming into prisons as well as sewage and toxic chemicals being discharged from prisons. Unlike the Eighth amendment, which requires proving prison officials state of mind and an intent to punish, the CWA requires only an objective test that contaminants in the water exceed the levels set by statute and the Environmental Protection Agency. Most importantly in the age of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, the CWA has its own attorney fee provision, which is unaffected by the PLRA's caps on fees. Also of significance is that community groups have standing to file suit under the CWA.
CWA suits are complex and require both water testing and expert witnesses to prove a claim. Neither of which are likely to be available to the average pro se prisoner litigant. Such claims will almost always require counsel to be successful. As the environmental movement in the United States grows, it may be time to make the connection to environmental degradation caused by mass imprisonment.
Sources: Birmingham News, Montgomery Legder-Inquirer, Associated Press, California Environmental Protection Agency, San Luis Obispo Tribune, Prison Legal News, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Amador Ledger Dispatch, National Public Radio, Miami Herald, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, indystar.com, Fitchburg Sentinel h Enterprise, Boston Telegram, Baltimore Sun, Gratiot Morning Sun, Saginaw News, Leavenworth Times, Atlantic City Press, Cibola Beacon, Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Texoma Coalition, New York Daily News, Springfield Hewsnet5, Reading Eagle, Irish News Limited