Jul 01, 2020

Study Investigates Arsenic in Southwestern Correctional Facilities Drinking Water

The findings of an analysis of arsenic and drinking water quality in U.S. correctional facilities were recently released

arsenic drinking water

An analysis of drinking water quality in U.S. correctional facilities found average arsenic concentrations in drinking water in Southwestern United States correctional facilities were twice as high as average arsenic concentrations in other community drinking water systems. 

This is the first nationwide analysis of drinking water in U.S. correctional facilities, according to Phys.org. The study was conducted by Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health researchers Anne Nigra, Ph.D., and Ana Navas-Acien, MD, Ph.D., professor of environmental health sciences. 

Researchers analyzed 230,158 arsenic monitoring records from 37,086 community water systems from the EPA's Third Six Year Review of Contaminant Occurrence dataset from 2006-2011. The average six-year water arsenic concentrations in Southwestern correctional facility CWSs were more than twice that of other Southwestern CWSs and nearly five times the level of other CWSs across the rest of the U.S.

More than a quarter of correctional facilities in the Southwest reported average arsenic levels exceeding the U.S. EPA maximum contaminant level of 10 μg/L. Approximately 2.2 million people, disproportionately Black and low-income men, are incarcerated in the U.S., and incarcerated populations are at elevated risk for several chronic diseases associated with chronic arsenic exposure.

“Persons incarcerated in the Southwestern US were at disproportionate risk of elevated drinking water arsenic exposure and related disease from 2006 to 2011,” said the study in its concluding remarks. “Strict enforcement of EPA regulations and additional technical and financial support for CWSs serving correctional facilities in the Southwest is necessary to protect the health and human rights of incarcerated persons.” 

"Mass incarceration is a public health crisis,” said Anne Nigra. “People who are incarcerated have a right to safe drinking water. Correctional facilities with their own water systems need to reduce water arsenic concentrations as much as possible, even below current regulatory standards.”

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