RELEASE: ThinkProgress Reports the Untold Story of an Overcrowded West Virginia Jail after the Chemical Spill
Washington, D.C. – Today, ThinkProgress released an investigative piece documenting the events at an overcrowded jail in Charleston, West Virginia, when roughly 10,000 gallons of chemicals leaked into the watershed this January.
There was one group that many forgot in the state’s emergency response: the 429 prisoners locked in Charleston’s overcrowded jail, who were entirely dependent on the state to provide them clean water.
Jail officials trumpeted their success at “protecting” inmates by providing a “plentiful supply of bottled water.” In many ways, the jail seemed to be one of the safest places in Charleston after the spill. Except that much of what officials originally claimed wasn’t true.
Interviews with multiple current and former inmates, their family members, and internal documents obtained by ThinkProgress tell a very different story of what happened inside South Central Jail, where many inmates have yet to be tried or are being detained for minor offenses.
Inmates say they were sometimes given as little as 16 ounces of water a day. Without enough clean water to drink, brush their teeth, and wash their face, many say they resorted to using contaminated tap water. The jail went back to using the tap water full time only eight days after the spill, after what inmates say was a brief, perfunctory running of the taps. Many prisoners interviewed by ThinkProgress say they suffered a myriad of health problems after exposure to MCHM and other chemicals present in the water supply.
Inmates’ claims of abuse were first told to volunteers with the West Virginia Clean Water Hub and Radical Action for Mountain People’s Survivals in mid-February. Since then, volunteers with the two groups have communicated with more than 50 inmates, almost all of whom they say shared a similar story of deprivation and exposure in the weeks and months following the chemical spill.
“They’ve had no choice but to be exposed to the chemicals, they’ve had minimal access to clean water, and they’ve faced harsh consequences for standing up for their rights to access safe water and health care,” advocates wrote in a report published today.
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