Prison Radio
Bryant Arroyo

On October 26, 2017, the town of Frackville, Pennsylvania sat down to Schuylkill County Water, Municipal water source, and switched over to SEI fright mill prison’s water preserve tank.

Staff indicated the Schuylkill municipality was conducting a purge to the repaired pipelines. Then on October 27th, Frackville staff passed out individual gallons of spring water due to the dirty, toxic contaminated water flowing from our preserved tank water supply.

This was not the first indication of water problems at the prison. In fact, far from it. Over the past year, there have been multiple signs of chronic water problems. Just one month earlier on September, 19th, 21st, 24th, and 27th prisoners at Pennsylvania’s SCI Frackville facility experienced four incidences of toxic drinking water and increasing frequency of incidents can only be taken as an indication that things are going from bad to worse.

These exposures to tainted water were coupled with bouts of diarrhea, vomiting, sore throats, and dizziness by an overwhelming majority of the prisoner population exposed to this contamination. These can not be construed as isolated incidents.

During these incidents, SCI Frackville staff passed out bottled spring water after the inmate population had been subjected to drinking the toxic contaminated water for hours without ever being notified via intercom or by memo to refrain from consuming the tap water. SCI Frackville’s administration is acutely aware of the toxic water contamination crisis and have adopted an [inaudible] practice of intentionally failing to notify the inmate population via announcements to refrain from tap water until prisoners discovered for themselves through the above-mentioned health effects.

Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, DOC, knows it has a water crisis on its hands. The top agencies like the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, DEP and EPA, know about this open secret, and have conspired to deliberately ignore most if not all of the prisoners’ official complaints. The DEP has already received four drinking water violations from the EPA for contamination across the state.

But the underlying problem is money, money, and more money. Earlier this year, federal officials warned DEP that it liked the staffing and resources to enforce safe drinking water standards. That could be grounds for taking away their role as the primary regulator of water standards and would cost the state millions of dollars in federal funding. In a letter dated December 30th, 2016, EPA Water Protection Division Director, [inaudible] stated that Pennsylvania’s drinking water program failed to meet the federal requirement for onsite review of water system operations and maintenance capability, also known as a sanitary survey. He added: not completing sanitary survey inspections in a timely manner can have serious public health implications.

One example in the city of Pittsburgh led to the closure of nearly two dozen schools and a [inaudible] water order for 100,000 people. State environmental regulators had discovered low chlorine levels after testing the city’s water as a part of an ongoing investigation into its water treatment system. The city has also been having issues with elevated lead levels.

The EPA told DEP that the department’s lack of staff has caused a number of unaddressed safe drinking water act violations to go from 4,298 to 7,922, almost doubling in the past five years. This leaves us with 43 inspectors employed, but to meet the EPA mandates, we need at least 85 full-time inspectors.

That means Pennsylvania inspectors have doubled the workload, and this has resulted in some systems not being inspected. Logically, the larger systems get routine inspections and systems that have chronic problems get inspected, but smaller and rural systems like ours may not be. To top it off, Frackville is in Schuylkill County near a cancer cluster of the rare disease known as
Polycythemia vera.

While there is no definitive research on PV. It is believed to be environmental in origin and could be waterborne. There is no telling how many of us may have contracted the mysterious disease caused by drinking this toxic contaminated water for years without being medically diagnosed and treated for this disease.

The DOC refuses to test the inmate population in spite of the ongoing water crisis. What would happen if the inmate population would discover that they have contracted the disease PV? Obviously this wouldn’t be economically feasible for the DOC medical department to pay the cost, to treat all inmates who have been discovered to have ill-gotten the waterborne disease.

Many Pennsylvania taxpayers would be surprised to know that our infrastructure is older than Flint, Michigan’s toxic water crisis. Something is very wrong in our own backyard and the legislative body wants to keep a tight lid on it. But how long can the secret be contained before we experienced an outbreak of the worst kind silence?

No more. It is time to speak. The sense of urgency cannot be stressed enough. We need to take action by notifying our Pennsylvania state legislators and make them accountable to the tax-paying citizens and highlight the necessary attention about Pennsylvania’s water crisis to assist those of us who are cornered and forced to drink toxic contaminated water across the state prisons.

Take action by contacting and filing complaints to our legislative body, DEP, EPA, and their higher ups before further contamination becomes inevitable. There’s no logic to action afterwards if we could have avoided the unnecessary catastrophe in the first place.

In the mountains of rejection prisoners have faced from these agencies, action from people on the outside could be affirmation that though buried inside prison walls, prisoners are still alive and deserving of the most basic right in life: water.

Bryant Arroyo, for Prison Radio and the nation of prisoners.

These commentaries are recorded by Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio.