LaBelle is a small rural-Pennsylvania community in Luzerne Township, Fayette County, which is defined by two major industries: a 506-acre coal ash dump and a maximum security state prison.
The dump, operated by Matt Canestrale Contracting (MCC) since 1997, receives coal ash waste from coal-fired power plants throughout the region. Before MCC began dumping coal ash there in the late 90s, the site was one of the largest coal preparation plants in the world, By the mid-90s, an estimated 40 million tons of coal refuse were dumped at the site, over hundreds of acres and “at depths approaching 150 feet in some places.” In 1994, the former owner of the site filed for bankruptcy and abandoned operations, leaving numerous legacy waste issues over the extent of the 1,357-acre property. In 1996, MCC purchased the entire property and subsequently entered into an agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to engage in coal refuse disposal for site reclamation. The dumpsite was later restricted to its current 506-acre footprint, in part through the transfer of 237 acres to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for the construction of SCI Fayette.
The Human Rights Coalition (HRC), Center for Coalfield Justice (CCJ), and the Abolitionist Law Center (ALC) launched an
investigation in August 2013. The investigation is not only ongoing, but is also expanding, as HRC and ALC continue to
document reports of adverse health symptoms and environmental pollution.
Our initial investigation found:
• More than 81% of responding prisoners (61/75) reported respiratory, throat, and sinus conditions
• 68% (51/75) of responding prisoners experienced gastrointestinal problems
• 52% (39/75) reported experiencing adverse skin conditions
• 12% (9/75) of prisoners reported either being diagnosed with a thyroid disorder at SCI Fayette, or having existing thyroid
problems exacerbated after transfer to the prison inescapably situated in the midst of a massive toxic waste dump.
• 11 prisoners died from cancer at SCI Fayette between January of 2010 and December of 2013.
• 6 prisoners have reported being diagnosed with cancer at SCI Fayette
• 8 report undiagnosed tumors and lumps.
Fayette Justice Project
We are a project of the Human Rights Coalition comprised of family members and loved ones of prisoners at SCI Fayette and prisoner rights advocates. We are working to shine a light on what is happening at SCI Fayette and in LaBelle, PA, as prisoners, surrounding community members, and prison guards are exposed to toxic coal ash. Prisoners at SCI Fayette are facing a double silencing, living in an economically depressed region dominated by extractive industries, and being behind walls; we build power and voice as loved ones of prisoners at SCI Fayette come together. We are organizing to put pressure on government agencies involved so that an adequate investigation may continue to discover all of the true causes of the many health problems in the area, and to push for justice for those who are being exposed.