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Bad Water Causes Florida Prison Evacuation

More than 700 prisoners at Florida's maximum-security Martin Correctional Institution (MCI) had to be evacuated October 26, 1999 while state crews scrambled to make emergency repairs to a water plant plagued by breakdowns, sickening odors and contaminants. Workers set up portable toilets and trucked in water for about 500 prisoners left behind.

MCI operates its own water plant just outside the prison gate. The plant gets water from seven nearby wells. State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) records show the wells have continually been clogged, out of service and unproductive. For years DEP employees have criticized MCI officials for ignoring prisoner complaints and failing to warn prisoners of potential health hazards. The DEP records show that prison officials:

Objected to having to tell prisoners about high lead and thallium levels in the water (as the law requires), claiming that doing so may cause prisoners to riot.
Argued that high lead levels threaten only children and pregnant women -- not adult male prisoners (apparently ignoring the fact that women and children frequently visit the prison).
For years failed to test its water as often as the DEP required and refused to complete a DEP survey of the prison's water system.
"DOC... seems to be thumbing its nose at the DEP districts," wrote Geoffrey Mansfield, of the DEP's water facilities division, in a December 1994 memo.

The evacuation was ordered after three of the wells failed and water pressure dropped too low to provide safe drinking water. Prison officials were given the go-ahead to bypass normal bidding procedures and under an emergency order authorized a Palm City engineering firm to begin immediate repairs and drill new wells.

Immediately following the evacuation DEP officials gave permission for the prison system to build a recycling plant to treat sewage water that could then be reused to flush toilets, reducing water consumption by 40 to 50 percent.

Source: Palm Beach Post

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