Kern Valley state prison unveils new water treatment plant to treat and reduce arsenic levels

Water treatment plant to reduce arsenic levels

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - Every day, Kern Valley State Prison uses half a million gallons of water.

"It's for drinking, for sanitation, for flushing inmate toilets," said prison plant manager Tim Wise.

But arsenic was found in the prison's two wells shortly after the prison was built in 2005.

"It's a normal condition everywhere in the valley," said Wise.

Arsenic is a natural chemical found in soil and water, but ingesting high levels of it can lead to cancer and even death.

In 2001 the Environmental Protection Agency lowered the amount of arsenic allowed in U.S. drinking water from a maximum of 50 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion.

Up until December, the prison's arsenic levels were nearly double the limit.

"There are no known health affects associated with the arsenic at the levels that we had," said Wise.

Even so, some inmates did not a chance.

"They felt that the water was bad and some even went to but water from the canteen," said inmate Elvin Hudson.

The EPA started enforcing the new standard in 2006 but the prison could not build a water treatment plant because of lack of federal and state funding.

Now seven years later...

"We're happy to be in full compliance with the new standard," said Wise.

Wise said that's because a $4 million water treatment plant has been built.

"With the plant running for about six weeks now, if we were to measure the amount of arsenic in that water, we would probably have no more than one to three pounds of measurable arsenic so it's a very minute amount," said Wise.

Hudson said he is happy there is less arsenic in the water. But then again...

"I didn't think the water would affect us or the staff," said Hudson.

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