Toxic Waste Poisoning Pennsylvania Inmates – Carlos GaminoBy Carlos Gamino

The inmates complain of painful sores, cysts, and tumors in their airways that keep them awake at night.

Diarrhea, ulcers, and profuse vomiting are not uncommon among the prisoners, and neither are rashes, raised hives, and pockets of pus that rapidly develop beneath the skin.

Some inmates have even reported mysterious facial swelling and permanent vision loss.

Sounds like the jail from hell, right?

Except it’s not. It’s one in Pennsylvania, and it seems that inmates are suffering from poisoning.

The State Correctional Institute at Fayette opened in LaBelle, Pennsylvania in 2003. Situated next to a coal mine and an industrial dump for fly ash, the residue left after coal burns, the prison isn’t exactly in the nicest neighborhood.

Although the coal facility near the prison is now dormant, a number of inmates are complaining of unusual medical problems, and the culmination of a year-long investigation by a local watchdog group is reigniting the controversy.

The watchdog group, the Abolitionist Law Center, typically focuses on racial injustice within America’s penal system. This time, however, they are defending all inmates by releasing shocking—and statistically very significant—research that shows the prisoners are being poisoned by their environment.

The studies show that 68 percent of the prison’s population has some form of digestive disorder they didn’t have before incarceration, and 52 percent experience at least one type of skin lesion. Many of the prisoners had no idea they were housed close to two potentially toxic facilities, according to the Abolitionist Law Center, but even if they did, what could they have done?

Legal activism aside, local residents who live within a close proximity to the coal mine and the fly ash dump are substantiating the prisoners’ medical claims. According to local sources, swirling dust particles from the dormant ash dump regularly cause skin problems and other complications, and have significantly lowered the average life expectancy in the area.

“Just about every year I have to buy new lawn furniture because it is all crappy. It even gets in my fruit, I have apple trees and whenever the apples are ripe they get salt-like grains embedded in them, only they are black,” says Sonny Markish, who lives closer to the fly ash dump than anyone else does. “I have had three kinds of cancer (lung, colon, prostate); my wife had part of her right kidney removed … the early death rate around here is phenomenal.”

Even the guards are being diagnosed with diseases.

“In 2009 I came down with hypothyroidism, which can be attributed to the absorption of fly ash and heavy metals. The medicine I take helps it, but I worry about cancer a good bit,” says Eric Garland, who’s worked in the prison for years. “It is simple: this is southwest Pennsylvania and well-paying jobs with benefits are pretty hard to come by,” he told al Jazeera.

While the Abolitionist Law Center has released research that should shock Pennsylvania’s legislators, it’s business-as-usual—and the inmates are still suffering.

What Do You Think?

Do you think the state of Pennsylvania should be held accountable for these inmates’ illnesses, and should they relocate everyone to a new facility?

I’d love to hear what you think, so share your thoughts on my Facebook page or on Twitter!

Carlos Gamino

Meta: According to the latest research, toxic waste is poisoning inmates at the State Correctional Institute at Fayette – and they can’t do anything about it.