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Prison's Water Contaminated

By Ray L. Levasseur

Prisoners at the U.S. Penitentiary, Marion, Illinois, have said for years that the government is poisoning us with contaminated water. The government has categorically denied these accusations. On September 28, 1990, a report issued by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) (U.S. Dept. of Health Services) confirms that the Marion water supply is toxic and presents a health threat to prisoners. The reports states that the most immediate concern is the high levels of Trihalomethanes (THM's), including chloroform, in the water. Some of the tested water samples contain more than twice the amount of THM's established as an acceptable level by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In 1979 the EPA established a standard of 100 parts per billion (ppb) for THM's in drinking water. There is general agreement among scientists, environmentalists and the EPA that this standard for THM's is not strict enough to protect public health. The recent ATSDR report shows concentrations of THM's as high as 245 ppb in Marion's water.

THM's are a carcinogen known to cause cancer. The best known THM is chloroform which can damage the liver and kidneys, cause headaches and depression and irritate the skin and digestive tract.

The ATSDR report contains an index which is a previous report done by ATSDR in 1986. It states that tests done in 1982-84 show unsafe levels of THM' s and recommends that measures be taken to reduce the amount of THM's to a safe level and that prisoners be informed of the health risk. The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) took no corrective measures, did not inform prisoners of the health risk and continued to propagate the lie that the water was safe to drink A few days after the current report was issued, warden John Clark, ex-priest, BOP hatchet man and court jester, held a press conference in front of the prison. In another one of his publicity stunts he gulped down a glass of water, smiled at the cameras and proclaimed the water safe to drink He didn't mention THM's, the ATSDR reports recommendation that the amount of toxins in the water be reduced.

All Marion prisoners drink contaminated water. We eat food prepared in contaminated water. We shower and wash with contaminated water. Our clothing and bedding are washed with contaminated water. Of additional concern is the higher vulnerability of some individuals to the effects of toxins. Stress, of which there is plenty at Marion, can make an individual more vulnerable as can those with weaker immune systems or illnesses. When THM's invade the human body it is on a mission to destroy.

All water samples examined by ATSDR were obtained and analyzed by government agencies or companies contracted by the government. Repeated requests to have water samples analyzed by parties representing prisoners have been denied by the BOP.

The main source of THM's in drinking water is the chemical interaction of chlorine disinfectant with naturally occurring organic material found in the water supply (dead plants and leaves). Excessive amounts of chlorine are used at Marion because the water is so filthy and foul tasting (according to the report this is due to the presence of manganese in amounts exceeding the level set by the EPA). Another reason for the heavy chlorine treatment is it's cheaper to use than other disinfectants and alternate treatment processes. Still another is that the health and well being of Marion prisoners means nothing to the government. A policy they've demonstrated over the years by violating virtually every rule of the United Nations Standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners (see Amnesty International's report on mistreatment at Marion prison, May, 1987).

The roots of our struggle at Marion, and all jails and prisoners in the American gulag, are interwoven with the economic class we are from. To those factories we've worked, construction crews we've labored on, fields we've harvested, and the cycles and under and unemployment. Interwoven also with the black, brown, and native American and poorer white communities; the neighborhoods, projects, barrios and ghettos of our birth. As a child I grew up next to a river and water supply polluted by textile mills and breathed the fumes spouting from a factory next door. Things haven't changed much in that regard, only gotten worse.

The government and corporations that use and abuse us show no respect for our rights. They won't unless we can put pressure on them. The government has been lying about Marion all along. Not just about the water supply and health threat to prisoners, but also about the purpose of Marion and the continual lockdown. They've made truth the first casualty in their so-called "war on crime" and drugs. We've seen it before: the Love Canals, uranium poisoning of Navajo miners, black and brown lung disease, exposure of thousands of workers, the insidious cover-up of Agent Orange poisoning of Vietnam veterans, contamination from nuclear plants, etc. The list of bright shining lies of government hypocrisy and deceit is endless. It is part of the legacy and present day reality within the conflict between those who control our lives and those who demand social justice.

Ultimately we need to secure our rights and protect them through collective action. For prisoners, the organized support of people from our communities, along with human and civil rights groups, is essential. Solidarity, sisters and brothers, is our greatest weapon.

Raymond Luc Levasseur, is enduring a 47-year sentence in Marion Federal Prison for convictions related to a series of bombings of the New York city offices of the South African government and other corporate military facilities. He was a co-defendant in the Ohio 7 seditious conspiracy trial that ended with a hung jury last year in Springfield, Mass. Readers are encouraged to write Levasseur, 103761016, Box 1000, USP Marion, Ill. 62959.

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