Pennsylvania Prisoners Poisoned By Coal Ash

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Life in a prison is probably not the safest environment for a person.  But for prisoners in Pennsylvania, life just got a lot more dangerous.

According to a new report, inmates at State Correctional Institution Fayette in LaBelle, Pennsylvania have been experiencing a significant increase in cancer rates.  The report, which was put together by the Abolitionist Law Center and the Human Rights Coalition, says that the culprit is a nearby coal ash dump.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has the details:

11 prisoners died from cancer between January 2010 and December 2013, another six have been diagnosed with cancer and eight more have undiagnosed tumors or lumps.

Also, more than 80 percent of 75 prisoners responding to the investigators experienced respiratory problems, 68 percent said they experienced gastrointestinal problems and half have skin rashes, cysts and abscesses. Twelve percent, nine of the 75, reported being diagnosed with a thyroid disorder at the prison or having their existing thyroid problems get worse. Many of the prisoners have multiple, overlapping symptoms, the report said.

The death rate at the Fayette correctional facility is the third highest in the state.  However, the two prisons with higher mortality rates also house large populations of elderly inmates, making Fayette the highest death rate among preventable causes.

DeSmogBlog has been noting the dangers of coal ash (also called fly ash) for some time.  Among the most dangerous chemicals in fly ash are carcinogens such as lead, arsenic and mercury.  More from a 2011 DeSmogBlog piece:

Loaded with dangerous toxic substances, the amount of coal ash produced in a single year is reported to contain 44 tons of mercury, 4601 tons of arsenic, 970 tons of beryllium, 496 tons of cadmium, 6275 tons of chromium, 6533 tons of nickel, and 1305 tons of selenium.

Scientific American also reports that in many instances, the coal ash produced by coal plants releases 100 times more radiation into the surrounding environment than a nuclear power plant producing the same amount of energy.

The Abolitionist Law Center and Human Rights Coalition have called on the prison in question to immediately shut down, as the correlation between cancers and coal ash is becoming stronger.  However, gaining public support for this action, or even getting the public to be concerned about the issue, will be an uphill battle for the groups. 

But the bottom line is that no one, not even those in prison, deserve to die a slow and painful death because of our reliance on dirty energy.

Farron Cousins is the executive editor of The Trial Lawyer magazine, and his articles have appeared on The Huffington Post, Alternet, and The Progressive Magazine. He has worked for the Ring of Fire radio program with hosts Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Mike Papantonio, and Sam Seder since August 2004, and is currently the co-host and producer of the program. He also currently serves as the co-host of Ring of Fire on Free Speech TV, a daily program airing nightly at 8:30pm eastern. Farron received his bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of West Florida in 2005 and became a member of American MENSA in 2009.  Follow him on Twitter @farronbalanced.

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