by Panagioti Tsolkas
"That was just like opening a fire hydrant" is how former Michigan state prisoner Glen Lilly described the thousands of pounds of raw sewage that flooded the basement at the Parnall Correctional Facility as a result of a plumbing disaster that spanned several months.
“It shot onto the wall and was splattering all the way to the ceiling,” he added.
Lilly, a 55-year-old union carpenter, had no formal training as a plumber. He was serving a 26-month sentence for driving offenses and was released on parole in February 2017. But the experience at Parnall followed him home in the form of breathing problems, bronchitis and fatigue, which eventually led to a diagnosis of hepatitis C that Lilly claims is linked to repeated exposure to sewage in the prison’s basement.
Officials had ordered him to open a cleanout valve to relieve pressure that caused shower areas and toilets at the facility to back up with human waste.
A Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) investigation into the incident, obtained by the Detroit Free Press under the state’s Freedom of Information Act, affirmed testimony from Lilly and other prisoners regarding the sewage spill.
Lilly earned $96 a month working as a plumber at the prison, which required being on call 24 hours a day. While that was significantly higher pay than most prison jobs, few prisoners wanted to deal with the sewage clean up, even with greater financial incentives.
“I felt trapped, in a way, because I didn’t want it to interfere with my parole,” Lilly said about his disgusting job duties.
He wore boots and gloves on some occasions but did not have access to respirators, nor were there enough protective suits for all the prisoners involved in the clean-up.
Lilly said he never used intravenous drugs or had high-risk sexual contact in prison, which are other common ways to contract hep C, but he did work with several other prisoners loading sewage into plastic garbage bags with minimal safety gear.
He is now speaking with attorneys about possible legal action. But it was not only prisoners and guards at the facility who were exposed to the sewage.
A spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Corrections, Chris Gautz, confirmed the sewage had been bagged and placed in a dumpster, then transported untreated by truck. Gautz said it was safe to do so, claiming the waste contained no blood or other hazardous biological material. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality apparently agreed, with a spokesperson saying the agency “determined the method of disposal was appropriate.”
Earlier this year, prisoners and staff reported repeated complaints about sewage-related problems at Parnall, including a rare case of blood poisoning from exposure to high levels of methane gas. [See: PLN, June 2017, p.16].
Whether or not Michigan prison officials will be held accountable for the health threat posed to prisoners, guards and the public due to the sewage problem remains to be seen.
Source: Detroit Free Press
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