Toxic Prisons: Over 47% of U.S. Prisons at Risk for PFAS Pollution, Putting Incarcerated Communities at Grave Health Risks

Study finds health risks due to unsafe drinking water in U.S. prisons

A recent study has uncovered that almost half of U.S. prisons may have harmful “forever chemicals” in their water supply, putting the health of inmates at risk and raising concerns about disparities within the justice system. Researchers found that 47% of prison facilities are at risk for PFAS pollution, which affects around 990,000 individuals including juveniles. This highlights environmental justice issues as marginalized communities are overrepresented in the prison population.

Nicholas Shapiro, a senior author and medical anthropologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, compared the incarcerated population spread across various facilities to being the fifth largest city in the country. This information is significant as it shows that a large number of prisons are located in areas with potential PFAS contamination, increasing health risks for incarcerated populations who are already in worse health compared to the general population.

PFAS contamination is not only a concern within prisons but also a broader threat to U.S drinking water. The EPA released proposed drinking water standards for six “forever chemicals” last year after continuous advocacy from affected communities, scientists and activists for years. The study emphasizes the vulnerability of incarcerated individuals to PFAS due to limited options for exposure mitigation, highlighting an urgent need for action to protect public health and ensure equal access to clean water for all members of society.

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