Inmates at two state prisons for women in Westchester County have said their water has been contaminated since the remnants of Hurricane Ida lashed the region, causing dozens to fall ill.
Prisoners at Bedford Hills, New York’s only maximum-security prison for women, and nearby Taconic Correctional Facility have been scrambling to access limited bottled water for two weeks since the storm hit, as local officials blamed the contamination on the town’s switch to a backup water source, according to NBC News.
“The morning after Hurricane Ida, the water possessed a foul-smelling odor,” Brittany Austin, a member of the Inmate Liaison Committee at Bedford Hills, told the network.
“It smelled like a mixture between sulfur and copper and it tasted like dirt and chemicals. There was chatter about it the entire day,” the prisoner reportedly said, adding that she advised fellow inmates to boil the water before drinking it.
In the days after the Sept. 1 storm, 40 inmates complained of stomach issues stemming from the water, but they were turned away by prison medical staff, Austin reportedly said.
The town of Bedford switched from its primary water source, Delaware Aqueduct, to the backup source, the Cross River Reservoir the day before the storm hit the area as part of a periodic test, Commissioner of Public Works Kevin Winn wrote on the town’s website on Sept. 3.
“The Cross River Supply can have higher levels of algae than the Delaware supply, and has other different water quality characteristics which can generate higher taste and odor than our customers are used to,” Winn wrote.
The commissioner acknowledged the backup supply is not “the aesthetically pleasing water our customers are used to,” and said the town switched to the preferred source on the day of the storm.
Winn told NBC that the town doesn’t monitor the water quality in the prisons, but reportedly said he was told by staff that the water quality and odor inside the detention centers had returned to normal this week.
The New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision told the outlet that Ida had no impact on the drinking water at the prisons, which met state standards. It also reportedly added that sick inmates are always “evaluated and if needed treated.”
Prisoners and their families reportedly said that the official line doesn’t hold water.
“Not only she, but several others there said the water was hard to drink,” said Donna Robinson, 66, according to NBC. Robinson is a mother of an inmate who reportedly drove all the way from Buffalo after her daughter Al-Shariyfa Robinson, 46 complained.
“They said it has a muddy taste and a foul odor. They didn’t have much bottled water in the commissary for them to buy. My daughter said her urine was so dark because she had been sipping on one bottle of water for a week. I literally was in tears.”
Robinson, who works with the group Release Aging People From Prison, took a sample of the prison’s water to be tested for contaminants, according to the report.
“Although officials have repeatedly stated that there is no problem with the water, we have asked multiple officers as well as members of administration to drink it in front of us, to which all have refused,” Bedford Hills inmate Kelly Harnett told the outlet.
A prisoner at Taconic told the network that the commissary has been out of water, and boiling it doesn’t help.
“I feel like nobody cares,” the woman, who declined to give her name to the network out of fear of retaliation, reportedly said.
“Nobody checked on us or compensated the loss of the fresh, clean, safe drinking water with bottled water to us for free.”
Both inmates told NBC that the water quality has slightly improved over the past week.