By Peter Chawaga, Associate Editor, Water Online
Access to clean water may be a human right, but difficulty around water quality for one controversial population has sparked debate.
“Scores of sex offenders ordered to live on a secluded island in Washington state say the often-cloudy, brown water there is making them sick, and records show the water system has been plagued by problems for more than a decade,” reported ABC News.
Around 200 residents of this so-called “Special Commitment Center” are suing the facility for violating their rights and forcing contaminated water upon them. They charge that stomach pain, skin rashes, and unexplained deaths could all be the result of this water contamination.
Bolstering the suit, an Associated Press review of the state Department of Health records indicated that there has indeed been significant failure to meet basic water quality requirements on the island.
Records show that “the water has repeatedly exceeded standards for various chlorine-related chemicals and has been cited for violations dating back to 2006,” per ABC News. “Health reports say the facility’s water treatment plant has been ‘on the verge of failure’ since 2013, and a former plant operator told health officials in 2015 that the water’s cloudiness readers were being manipulated to make the water look cleaner than it was.”
The Special Commitment Center is home to 225 men and one woman, all of whom can be considered among the state’s “worst” sex offenders, deemed to be “sexually violent,” according to ABC News. It seems more than likely that this status of residents has contributed to the lack of response to drinking water red flags.
“The drinking water, also used for laundry, cooking and brushing teeth, is pulled from the nearby Butterworth Reservoir before being sent to a treatment plant and a holding tank,” ABC News reported. “It then moves through corroded underground pipes to offices, housing units and a kitchen.”
Per previous reports, it appears that in addition to the corroded pipes, the presence of disinfection byproducts is a chief issue.
“The chlorine-related chemicals that exceeded state and federal standards were trihalomethane and heoacetic acid, which are ‘disinfection byproducts’ that result from an interaction between chlorine and organic material,” ABC News reported. “The EPA says a person drinking water contaminated with these chemicals over many years could suffer liver or kidney problems or be at risk for cancer.”
At least one resident claims that the staff brings their own water in from the mainland.
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Image credit: "water issues," Dorie Schwarz © 2007, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/