First, flooding in Brazos County forced evacuation of three prison units: Terrell, Stringfellow, and Ramsey. How much might it cost to repair flood damage? How likely is such an event to recur? Does this argue for placing one or more of these units on a possible closure list, or was flooding a one-off, as TDCJ officials are telling the press? It'll be interesting to learn more about the circumstances surrounding these evacuations once the crisis has passed.
Meanwhile, arsenic levels in well water at the Pack Unit in Navasota County (see earlier Grits coverage) perhaps argue for adding that facility to the potential closure list. The issue has arisen in ongoing heat litigation because inmates who need to cool down have not choice but to drink it. Reported the Houston Chronicle:
Arsenic has been found in the well water at the Pack Unit at levels that violate the Environmental Protection Agency's cap for safe amounts, and the Pack Unit operates one of 60 Texas water systems that are out of compliance with the federal standard, according to testimony from Michael Honeycutt, director of toxicology at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.Though state officials claim the situation is not an emergency, an expert told the court those levels are unsafe.
Prior to 2001, the EPA's cap for safe amounts of arsenic in an aquifer was 50 parts per billion (PPB), Honeycutt said.
A federal law lowered the cap to 10 PPB, he said, and enforcement of that level began in 2006. The Pack Unit put in a new filtration system in 2007, but the water still tests at 25 or 30 PPB, he said.
Michael McGeehin, a national expert on heat exposure, told U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison that the situation is urgent at the Pack Unit in Navasota, where inmates are trying to force the state to provide an alternative to well water that contains elevated levels of arsenic.TDCJ is paying for a new filtration system, but perhaps closure would be the better option.
"If you're asking me if I can say to a captive population, 'You should continue to drink this water until it gets fixed,' I can't," testified McGeehin, a former division director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.