Prisons at Risk: Half of U.S. Prison Water Supply Contaminated with Harmful Chemicals, Exposing Vulnerable Populations to Health Risks

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

A recent study has brought to light that nearly half of the water supply in U.S. prisons may be contaminated with harmful “forever chemicals,” posing potential health risks to the approximately 990,000 individuals, including juveniles, who are at risk of PFAS pollution. The study revealed that 47% of prison facilities are at risk of contamination, emphasizing the vulnerability of incarcerated individuals to these chemicals due to limited options for exposure mitigation.

The findings highlight environmental justice issues, as marginalized communities are overrepresented in the prison population. This is equivalent to being the fifth largest city in the country, according to medical anthropologist Nicholas Shapiro, a senior author at the University of California, Los Angeles. This information is significant because 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 years of advocacy from affected communities, scientists, and activists.

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