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

Alarming Study Reveals Half of US Prisons at Risk for PFAS Pollution, Putting Incarcerated Population at Grave Health Risk

A recent study has brought to light that almost half of U.S. prisons may have harmful “forever chemicals” in their water supply, putting the health of incarcerated individuals at risk and raising concerns about health disparities and human rights in the justice system. The study found that 47% of prison facilities are at risk of PFAS pollution, affecting around 990,000 individuals, including juveniles. Researchers emphasized the vulnerability of incarcerated individuals to PFAS due to limited options for exposure mitigation.

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. The overrepresentation of marginalized communities within the prison population highlights environmental justice issues, and 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.

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. This study raises awareness about the need for more robust regulations and protections for vulnerable populations within the criminal justice system and beyond.


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