Study finds potentially dangerous levels of arsenic in California prison drinking water


Berkeley — Ten years after the state of California recognized the human right to water, hundreds of thousands of residents still rely on drinking water that contains dangerous levels of contaminants, including the highly toxic mineral arsenic. Many of them live in low-income and rural communities that struggle to afford the necessary infrastructure to remove arsenic from drinking water.

A new study led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and Virginia Tech is one of the first to analyze how incarcerated individuals in California may be impacted by arsenic-contaminated water.

The study, which will appear online Sept. 21 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, analyzed 20 years of water quality data from Kern Valley State Prison and the nearby Central Valley communities of Allensworth, McFarland and Delano, where many groundwater aquifers contain unhealthy levels of naturally-occurring arsenic. At all four locations, the study found instances when the arsenic levels in the water supply exceeded regulatory limits for months or even years at a time.

“There has been a lot of work, primarily by journalists and by incarcerated people themselves, that suggests serious environmental health hazards in prisons, and yet there have been very few studies looking at these environmental health challenges,” said study first author Jenny Rempel, a graduate student in UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group. “This is one of the few studies to document ongoing structural challenges to realizing this basic human right to water on both sides of the prison walls.”

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EurekAlert, 21-09-22