Just last week, the area in San Mateo named Chemical Way was cleaned of decades of toxic chemical residue because it is the proposed site of the new jail. The Department of Toxic Substances Control had recently declared that the land was too hazardous for residential use because it was so permeated by volatile organic compounds, yet the San Mateo County Sheriff's Department was hopeful that this cleanup would help. Even though the county cleaned the land to commercial-level standards, it is still too hazardous to meet residential toxicity standards.
The jail will have people sitting, sleeping and eating on site for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and therefore it is important for the residential toxicity standards to be met. During the course of testing the land for potential hazards and risks, the County did not include a Human Health Risk Assessment, which is a test that measures people's likely exposure to toxic chemicals and whether or not it is safe. This has brought about questions as to whether or not the county believes that jails are residential, and whether or not they genuinely care about the health and wellbeing of prisoners.
It is estimated that the San Mateo jail population is comprised of 24% black people and 35% Latinos. Studies show that communities of color are disproportionately exposed to pollution in the places they live and often suffer the highest rates of unemployment, poverty, health problems, disenfranchisement, and lack of access to education. Additionally, studies have shown that imprisonment is harmful for mental, family, physical and community health. Instead of building a jail in San Mateo, alternatives such as mental health support, affordable housing, drug treatment, education and job placement are better suited to stop these detrimental life cycles and build a healthier community as well.
San Mateo County's Health System has recommended these alternatives to building a jail, and these recommendations would take approximately three to six months to get started and would cost the county only $8.38 million a year. In comparison to the jail, which would cost $160 million to build and at least $30 million every year to operate, these recommendations would save an enormous amount of money for the County and residents alike.
Many people do not realize that there are more than 550 known contaminated sites in San Mateo Count that are in need of toxic cleanups. These toxic sites are the result of underground storage tanks that may have leaked, careless chemical management by dirty industries, and unwanted waste left by the military. One of the main driving forces behind cleaning up these contaminated sites is development, such as the motion to bring a jail to San Mateo, but these cleanup programs are typically underfunded. If you have been injured or adversely affected because of toxic land, call my personal injury law firm today to learn if you have a case to seek compensation.