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Ohio Prisons Cited by EPA

In Ohio, the task of keeping water safe and pure is delegated to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA). The task of keeping prisoners locked up belongs to Ohio's Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (DORC). Under Ohio Revised Code (R.C.) §2921.44, the DORC has the responsibility to provide prisoners with adequate food, clothing, and shelter. Wardens can be charged with a major misdemeanor or low-level felony for violation of this statute.

Apparently, certain institutions under control of DORC didn't feel it necessary to discharge safe sewage effluents into state surface waters.

In December 1998, the [Columbus, OH] Dispatch reported that Pickaway Correctional Institution (PCI) was being investigated for dumping partially-treated sewage effluent into Big Darby Creek, a National Scenic Waterway. PCI serves a complex of prisons -- Corrections Reception Center (CRC), Orient Correctional Institution (OCI), PCI, and the Corrections Training Academy (CTA) -- and the village of Orient, Ohio, with water and sewer services. Originally, PCI and OCI were a single facility used for mental health care, but they have since been split into prisons to house Ohio's swelling prisoner ranks. CRC and CTA were built later. The number of people regularly served by the PCI water system is in excess of 5,000, far beyond design capacity. Overcrowding has overwhelmed the plant

According to Dispatch reports, PCIs sewage treatment plant was frequently overwhelmed with raw sewage and partially treated sewage discharge from the facilities served. The result was partially-treated, smelly sewage with a high organic content polluting Big Darby Creek. Fish, wildlife, agriculture and sport fishing are at risk because of the contaminated water. Sports fishermen have complained loudly of the nauseating, noxious odor of the water downstream of the plant.

OEPA ordered DORC to clean up the mess. Later reports in January 1999 announced plans by DORC to add capacity to the sewage treatment plant. In the meantime, Warden Alan J. Lazaroff of OCI instituted new, restrictive use orders on the water at OCI to cut down OCI's contribution to the mess. Already, during most heavy rains, OCI prisoners are ordered not to drink or bathe with the water for varying periods of time because the water pumps supplying water to OCI from PCI would, due to sewage and rain overflows, pump contaminated water into the fresh water lines. During these periods, prisoners are not given an alternative water supply. Moreover, on numerous occasions, sewage has backed up on OCI's yard from the underground sewage system.

Several OCI prisoners are proceeding with a lawsuit against OCI, charging that the institution has long known the water was unsafe US EPA and OEPA documents show that PCI's water has been cited several times for various violations. OCI prisoners charge, based on various documents from government sources, that OCI officials knew the problems existed but covered them up.

In 1992, OCI was cited for lead-con- taminated water and ordered to provide notification to water users. OCI water contained lead above the EPA action level, and OCIs then-warden, John Littlefield, was notified. Strangely, however, to this day no official notification has been passed on to prisoners. OCI is a medical hospice facility, and such a failure to notify violates not only the law but basic human decency.

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