Thursday, September 25, 2014

Well water contaminated with arsenic at TDCJ's Wallace Pack unit

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is seeking a contract to purchase water from the city of Navasota because of "slightly higher than normal levels of arsenic in the Wallace Pack Unit's water," according to the Navasota County Examiner (Sept. 24). But the city turned them down because the agency expected them to pay up front costs to extend a water line outside the city limits to the 1,800 prisoner facility.

How high is "slightly higher than normal"? TDCJ operates two wells at the Wallace Pack unit dubbed #3 and #4 which pump water out of the Jasper aquifer, one of three significant Gulf Coast aquifers. According to this 2009 report (pdf), "The most wide-spread contaminant in produced Gulf Coast groundwater is arsenic, which commonly exceeds the maximum contaminant level (MCL) concentration of 10 μg/L." However, Well 3 "does not have any horizons that are compliant with the arsenic MCL concentration. The well-head sample had 43 μg/L arsenic and concentrations from different depths within the screen ranged from 40 to 43 μg/L," so more than four times the MCL.

Well #4 had lower levels and "is a candidate for possible well modification" so that they only take water from the shallower depths where arsenic levels are less. Apparently, instead of going that route, TDCJ hoped to simply purchase water from another source. Now, it's on to Plan B, whatever that is.

In the meantime, arsenic contamination rates four times the allowable level sounds to me like a bit more serious a problem than "slightly higher than normal," as the Navasota paper described it. 

It's possible that high arsenic levels in the long term could drive up TDCJ health care costs. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the National Academy of Sciences found that "arsenic in drinking water causes bladder, lung and skin cancer, and may cause kidney and liver cancer. The study also found that arsenic harms the central and peripheral nervous systems, as well as heart and blood vessels, and causes serious skin problems."

The Wallace Pack unit is in an area southwest of Huntsville with lots of other prison units relatively nearby. I wonder how many others get their drinking water from arsenic-contaminated wells and face similar dilemmas? If readers are aware of other units facing these issues, please let me know in the comments.

See prior, related Grits coverage:


He's Innocent said...


Luther Unit is literally a couple miles away from Pack and uses well water too. They are farther from Navasota as well, so surely TDCJ will not be putting out the bucks to extend water to that unit either. I recommend you do a FOIA request for anything from Luther and Hamilton in nearby Bryan.

My husband released from Pack in July. He uses a CPAP breathing machine. The hard layer of crust in the bottom of his machine has been saved for possible issues later down the road. I bet that could come in quite handy.

When the VA saw my husband's CPAP and its condition, they asked what the hell had he done with it? 3 years TDCJ he told them. Not allowed access to vinegar or bleach to clean the unit parts. Mold was growing in the hose. We've kept all the pieces that VA replaced. You've given us a reason that was a smart move. Thanks Scott!

Dr Hilarius said...

"You'll drink your poison and like it! Texas!"