End Prisoners’ Exposure to Toxic Waste

seal of the department of corrections of PA

Target: Marcel Tassin, Director of Operations with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections

Goal: Demand closure of the LaBelle, Pennsylvania state prison over concerns that its proximity to a toxic coal ash dump has led to a spike in inmates’ health issues and deaths

Prisoners lose many of the rights Americans take for granted when they are sentenced to time behind bars. Even still, laws and regulations are in place to prevent cruel and unusual punishment and other human rights violations–intolerable even when aimed at hardened criminals. One Pennsylvania state prison has come under fire after an investigation found inmates suffering from all manner of health issues, potentially caused by the toxic coal ash dump located just next door.

The Center for Coalfield Justice, the Abolitionist Law Center and the Human Rights Coalition worked together to release a report, titled “No Escape: Exposure to Toxic Coal Waste at State Correctional Institution Fayette,” detailing these concerns. They found an appalling lack of regard for inmates’ health and well-being. A full 80 percent of prisoners at the facility reported respiratory, throat or sinus issues. More than half reported skin irritations, and 68 percent reported gastrointestinal issues. Between 2010-13, 11 inmates at the facility died of cancer.

Right next to the prison is a coal ash dump owned and operated by Matt Canestrale Contracting. As reported by Common Dreams, the waste accumulating there is known to contain lead, arsenic and mercury among other toxins. The report emphasizes the fact that the Canestrale dump has been in “perpetual violation” of environmental safety laws, putting nearby residents at risk.

Locating a prison next to such a toxic site is a clear violation of inmates’ human rights, and constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Demand that the Fayette prison be closed and relocated to end this great injustice.


Dear Mr. Tassin,

The location of the State Correctional Institution Fayette, right next to a coal ash dump, exposes inmates to toxins and violates their human rights. A recent investigation into the issue found that at least 80 percent of inmates at the facility experience health concerns which may be linked to contact with coal ash waste. They report conditions that began after their incarceration at the Fayette prison. Such negligence is absolutely unacceptable.

The Canestrale dump is a known violator of environmental regulations, and its operators cannot be trusted to prevent the spread of toxins to neighboring homes and businesses. While inmates may have been convicted in court, their punishment must not include the long-lasting health effects of exposure to lead, arsenic and mercury. I call on you and the Department of Corrections to do more than simply review the investigation’s report. End this tragic violation of inmates’ rights, and relocate the Fayette prison away from hazardous sites like the Canestrale dump.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Fry1989 via Wikimedia Commons

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