The Untold Story Of What Happened At An Overcrowded West Virginia J...

When the coal ash spill contaminated water in January, Charleston inmates were forced to use contaminated water. Official denials were later exposed.

When roughly 10,000 gallons of chemicals leaked into a West Virginia watershed this January, ..., there was one group that many forgot: the 429 prisoners locked in Charleston’s overcrowded jail, who were entirely dependent on the state to provide them clean water.

The only article that looked at the spill’s impact on inmates was a small, glowing report published two months later in the Charleston Daily Mail. Jail officials trumpeted their success at “protecting” inmates by providing a “plentiful supply of bottled water.”

“We got three 8 oz. jugs of water a day. I don’t think that’s enough water. We thought we was going to pass out,” said former inmate Perry Changes, who was transferred out of South Central in February.

Documents obtained by ThinkProgress show guards were only told to provide inmates with four 8-oz. servings of water a day. After inmates complained, officials decided five servings should be “sufficient,” according to internal emails. A heavily-redacted jail log shows flushing occurred in a single day, not three.

According to guidelines from the Institute of Medicine, men over 19 years old should be drinking roughly 100 oz. of water a day (over three-quarters of a gallon) to stay hydrated. Women need around 73 oz. (over half a gallon) a day.

Inmates said they had a choice: They could drink the sweet-tasting water that might make them sick. Or they could deal with the inevitable drain of severe dehydration.

While the jail initially said there had been no health concerns, multiple inmates say they suffered problems ranging from minor rashes to respiratory infections and fainting spells. Prisoners also described a policy implemented after the spill, which could land someone in solitary confinement for asking to see a nurse too many times.

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