Invisible Threat: The Dangers of PFAS in U.S. Prison Water Supplies and the Need for Environmental Justice

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

A recent study has brought to light that almost half of U.S. prisons 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.

The findings highlight environmental justice issues, pointing out the overrepresentation of marginalized communities within the prison population. According to Nicholas Shapiro, a senior author and medical anthropologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, being incarcerated is like having a fifth largest city population spread across various facilities.

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’s findings raise important questions about how to address the environmental justice issues within our criminal justice system. It is crucial that we take action to protect vulnerable populations such as those incarcerated from further harm caused by these harmful chemicals in their water supply.

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