Support ALC’s Environmental Justice Work – Give Now and Your Donation Will Be Doubled!

A generous donor has offered a matching pledge in response to the report the Abolitionist Law Center (ALC) recently released with the Human Rights Coalition (HRC), which uncovered a hidden health crisis at a Pennsylvania prison built in the midst of a toxic coal waste dump. If you give today your donation will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to $1,000.

On September 2nd, ALC and HRC released the report No Escape: Exposure to Toxic Coal Waste at State Correctional Institution Fayette. The report was covered on the front page of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, picked up by Reuters and the New York Times online, and has spurred the Pennsylvania State Correctional Officers Association and the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to launch inquiries into the health of staff and prisoners at SCI Fayette.

If this pledge is matched, then we will have raised $2,000 to support our ongoing investigation of environmental pollution and related health effects at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Fayette. These funds will also contribute to our advocacy efforts on behalf of prisoners like Nicholas Morrissey, who is suffering from severe neurological symptoms potentially related to coal ash exposure.

Please consider giving a donation today – and help us move forward on this rapidly expanding project. Donations may be made via PayPal, by mailing checks to P.O. Box 8654, Pittsburgh, PA 15221, or to our Bitcoin wallet at 16TvNewZsFDPKiBAUB5A3oHD5a1WcwK19J

Many Thanks,

Abolitionist Law Center


Press Coverage of No Escape

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Groups say fly ash near state prison in Fayette County causing health problems

State, corrections union investigate health at prisons by coal sites


Report blames coal ash for cancers at Pennsylvania prison

Prison Radio:

No Escape (Toxic Exposure at SCI Fayette) by Mumia Abu-Jamal


Report alleges link between fly ash, health problems at SCI-Fayette

KQV radio:

Report Finds Disturbing Pattern of Illnesses at State Prison


40 Million Tons Of Toxic Coal Waste Sit Next To Prison With ‘Alarming Rates Of Illness’

Allegheny Front:

Report Points to Fly Ash Pollution in Prisoner Health Complaints

Action Alert – Demand transfer and medical treatment for prisoner locked up next to toxic coal ash dump

Nicholas Morrissey and his daughter before his illness
Nicholas Morrissey and his daughter before his illness

Nicholas Morrissey #HL6873 is a prisoner at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Fayette who is suffering from debilitating neurological problems for which he has been refused evaluation and treatment by prison medical staff.  SCI Fayette is located next to a massive coal ash dump in Southwestern PA, as documented in the recent report No Escape: Exposure to Toxic Coal Waste at State Correctional Institute Fayette

Nick has been locked up at SCI Fayette since 2008.  Last year, he began to experience a number of debilitating health problems.  He writes, “One day I woke up and it was difficult for me to walk and see… I started getting dizzy and I couldn’t keep my balance and I started getting a numbing feeling in the left side of my body.” He quickly developed more symptoms:  tingling sensations and muscle spasm, loss of mechanical function in his arms and legs, memory loss, hair falling out, and extreme weight loss.

Take action today: Call and request that the PA Department of Corrections:

1) Transfer Nicholas Morrissey from SCI Fayette due to the risk that his health problems are being caused or made worse by the coal waste dump; and

2) Provide Nick with immediate diagnostic care by a specialist outside the prison, including an MRI.


SCI Fayette Superintendent Brian Coleman: 724-364-2200

PADOC Secretary John Wetzel: 717-728-4109

Background information:

“My life has completely changed in the last year.  I went from an athletic and healthy person, to a frail sickly man who can barely walk.” -Nicholas Morrissey

Early this year, after a series of blood tests, Nick was diagnosed with and began being treated for hyperthyroidism.  With treatment, Nick’s thyroid levels returned to normal, but most of his symptoms persisted or worsened.  The cognitive problems, muscle spasms, and temporary loss of function in his arms, legs and face, became more severe, leaving him unable to walk or get out of bed on many days.

Despite the persistence of these debilitating symptoms the prison’s medical department has refused to perform further evaluation or take him to an outside specialist for diagnostic care.  He has been told by medical staff that his symptoms are in his “imagination” and that he needs to “man up.”  He writes, “When I told the doctor that it was difficult for me to walk and that I couldn’t control my body anymore, I was kicked out of his office and threatened with being sent to the hole.”  Nick has filed several grievances in response to the neglect and intimidation exhibited by medical staff, all of which have been dismissed.  He and his family are concerned that his declining health is related to the massive coal waste dump surrounding the prison.

Talking points for phone calls to the Department of Corrections:

  • If you are calling Secretary Wetzel, ask for Secretary Wetzel’s office.  If you are calling SCI-Fayette, ask for Superintendent Coleman’s office. You will be transferred to an assistant in one these offices. Please make calls to both offices.
  • Tell them you are calling about Nick Morrissey #HL6873, a prisoner at SCI Fayette who is experiencing neurological problems including severe muscle spasms, loss of motor function, and memory loss.
  • Explain that Nick has been diagnosed and treated for hyperthyroidism, but his symptoms have persisted and cannot be explained by his thyroid problems.  Medical staff have refused further evaluation and diagnostic testing to determine the cause of his symptoms and have exhibited willful neglect toward his illness.
  • Tell them you are aware that SCI Fayette sits next to a large coal ash dump and that the Human Rights Coalition and the Abolitionist Law Center recently released a report which demonstrates that prisoners are at risk of exposure to pollution from the site. Tell them you are concerned that Nick Morrissey’s health problems could be related to the pollution from the dump.

Request that SCI Fayette:

  • Transfer Nicholas Morrissey from SCI Fayette immediately, due to the risk that his health problems are being caused or made worse by the coal waste dump
  • Provide Nick with immediate, in-person, diagnostic care by a specialist outside the prison, including an MRI.

Report finds disturbing pattern of illnesses at Southwestern PA prison surrounded by coal ash dump

Abolitionist Law Center and Human Rights Coalition release report detailing health problems at SCI Fayette

Contact: Ben Fiorillo                                        412-482-0041

September 2, 2014: Pittsburgh, PA – Abolitionist Law Center and the Human Rights Coalition have released a report entitled, No Escape: Exposure to Toxic Coal Waste at State Correctional Institution Fayette, based on a year-long investigation into the health impacts of exposure to coal waste at the state prison in Fayette County, PA. The report reveals alarming rates of illnesses consistent with exposure to coal ash, a toxic byproduct of burning coal in power plants.

No Escape: Exposure to Toxic Coal Waste at State Correctional Institution FayetteSurrounded by “about 40 million tons of waste, two coal slurry ponds, and millions of cubic yards of coal combustion waste,” SCI Fayette is inescapably situated in the midst of a massive toxic waste dump. The prison was built on part of a Coal Refuse Deposit Area owned by Matt Canestrale Contracting, which currently operates a coal ash dump directly adjacent to the prison. Before Matt Canestrale Contracting took it over, the land was a dumping ground for coal waste from one of the world’s largest coal processing plants.

The investigation was launched in August of 2013 by Abolitionist Law Center (ALC), the Human Rights Coalition, and The Center for Coalfield Justice, after receiving reports of high rates of illnesses at SCI Fayette. Prisoners reported a number of overlapping symptoms and diseases, including chronic sore throats, extreme throat swelling, shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness, vision problems, stomach pain, and sores, cysts, and tumors in their mouths, noses, and throats, as well as on their skin. Many prisoners reported being diagnosed with thyroid disorders or cancer after arriving at SCI Fayette. Residents of the nearby town of LaBelle, PA have also reported high rates of breathing problems and cancer, and have been calling for the coal ash dump to be shut down.

“No Escape” represents the preliminary findings of the investigation, and more research is needed to better understand both the risks posed by the dump and the nature of prisoners’ health problems. Nonetheless, these preliminary findings raise legal questions about the location of the prison. According to the report, “Situating a prison in the midst of a massive toxic coal waste dump may be impermissible under the Constitution if it is shown that prisoners face a substantial risk of serious harm caused by exposure to pollutants from the dump.” ALC attorney Dustin McDaniel put it this way, “If the patterns of illnesses we’re seeing at SCI-Fayette are indeed related to pollution from the dump, then this prison should be shut down.”