PFAS Pollution in U.S. Prisons: Threatening the Health and Human Rights of Incarcerated Populations

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

A recent study has brought attention to a major environmental issue within the U.S. prison system. Nearly half of prisons in the country may have harmful “forever chemicals” in their water supply, posing potential health risks and raising concerns about human rights and health disparities 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 findings also highlight environmental justice issues, pointing out the overrepresentation of marginalized communities within 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.

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 highlights the need for continued efforts to address this growing environmental issue and protect vulnerable populations from its harmful effects.

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