Former Water Source For Douglas, Arizona, Prison Tested Positive For Petroleum Product

Published: Friday, February 21, 2020 - 8:22am
Updated: Friday, February 21, 2020 - 8:46am

State and county agencies are still trying to determine the cause of water contamination at a state prison in southern Arizona, four months after the issue was first reported by KJZZ

In October 2019, after inmates in the Douglas prison complained of brown, foul smelling water, the Arizona Department of Corrections confirmed water at the prison had a “noticeable petroleum odor and taste.” 

Inmates told their families the water smelled like smelled like diesel fuel and caused skin rashes and digestive problems.

After a water outage at the prison in June 2019, Cochise County, the entity supplying water to the prison, switched to a new well as the source of drinking water for the more than 2,000 people incarcerated at Douglas.

During that outage, the prison supplied inmates with bottled water and used portable toilets and sanitation stations for several days.

The October reports of contamination forced Department of Corrections to switch back to the old well.

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality has now confirmed to KJZZ that the original well being used to supply water to the prison tested positive for a "petroleum product."

ADEQ spokesperson Erin Jordan said that well has been offline since October.

"ADEQ continues to assist the water system with further investigation of Well #1," Jordan said. "The water system is also conducting additional sampling at their water tower, which is being supplied by Well #7 (the original well)."

The wells serve the prison and customers of the Bisbee Douglas International Airport water system.

"Activities at the airport site date back to at least the 1940s when it was used as a military training facility," Jordan said, "and the source may not be from recent activities."

Jordan said the investigation is ongoing to determine the source of the reported issues, but ADEQ has not yet received the results of recent additional samples taken at the prison water tower.

Families of inmates at the prison say despite the switch to the new well, the water is still contaminated.

ADEQ received a complaint Jan. 29, 2020 from a woman who said her husband lives at Douglas. 

"He has been noticing since the morning of 1/27/2020 that the drinking water and tap water is once again smelling of diesel fuel when in use," the woman said. "The smell and taste is so strong, he tastes it over the smell and taste of his coffee. He has complained of a sore throat. Every time the urinal flushes, the smell wafts strongly. The smell is even more noticeable when using the hot water."

The complaint says the woman visited the prison on Jan. 28 and experienced the smell for herself.

"I did not drink the water, but my husband has no choice. Please assist the department in correcting this issue immediately,” the woman requested.

Cochise County spokesperson Amanda Baillie said the prison "continues to receive clean water that meets federal drinking standards from Well #7."

The Arizona Department of Corrections has not responded to repeated requests for an update on the water situation since November 2019.

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