Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Officials Investigate Health at Prisons by Coal Sites Report Suggests Polluted Water a Factor in Sickness

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Officials Investigate Health at Prisons by Coal Sites Report Suggests Polluted Water a Factor in Sickness

Article excerpt

The state Department of Corrections and the union representing corrections officers each are conducting a health survey of present and former members who are working or worked at SCI Fayette and three other prisons built near coal ash disposal or coal mining operations.

The Pennsylvania State Correctional Officers Association announced it will do the survey in the wake of a report by two human rights groups earlier this month that found inmates at the state prison along the Monongahela River at LaBelle, Fayette County, were experiencing high numbers of cancers and other health problems.

That report linked the inmate health issues, including cancers and respiratory, gastrointestinal, skin and thyroid problems, to the water supply and exposure to dust from a 500-acre coal combustion waste disposal site that borders the prison on two sides.

Jason Bloom, vice president of the guards' union, called the inmate health report "alarming," and, in a written statement released Friday, said the union already is aware of several cases of kidney, thyroid and breast cancers among its members at SCI Fayette.

Mr. Bloom said the union is involved in an arbitration case now in which it is alleging that the drinking water of the prison caused the kidney cancer of a corrections officer. The prison gets its drinking water from the Tri-County Joint Municipal Authority, which draws its water supply from the Monongahela River.

The union also will review health claim arbitration records for past and present members employed at SCI-Mahanoy and SCI- Frackville, both in Schulykill County, and SCI-Coal Township, Northumberland County.

Susan McNaughton, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections, said that after the human rights groups' report, DOC Secretary John Wetzel directed the department's Bureau of Health Care Services to work with the state Department of Health on a review of SCI-Fayette inmate health records.

"We're looking at all the medical records of inmates at Fayette, and that's an ongoing review," Ms. …

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