An investigation by the EPA lasting nearly seven months concluded in March that GEO Group violated the law by misusing a pesticide that sickened immigrants detained at another immigration prison operated by the company in southern California. The EPA-registered pesticide, HDQ Neutral, had already been used at the Adelanto Detention Facility for nearly a decade, but applications increased amid the pandemic, leaving detained immigrants with nosebleeds, burning eyes, and breathing issues, the Los Angeles Times reported

“This report confirms what those in detention have known for far too long—that GEO doesn’t care about the health and safety of immigrants,” the Shut Down Adelanto Coalition said in response. The chemicals used at NWIPC, GS Neutral Disinfectant Cleaner and Sani-T-10 Plus, were also implemented as part of pandemic cleaning protocols, The Counter reported. The report said that the EPA considers these chemicals “pesticides.”

“There are herbicides, which are aimed at weeds and unwanted greenery,” Dr. Lesliam Quirós-Alcalá of John Hopkins University’s Department of Environmental Health and Engineering said in the report. “There are insecticides, which are meant for insects. There are rodenticides, aimed at rodents. So you have different classes, but they’re all pesticides.” The report said “disinfectants used at NWIPC—GS Neutral and Sani-T-10 Plus—fall under that category.”

The Counter reports that La Resistencia leader Maru Mora Villalpando “is especially concerned” because microwaves are so widely used by detained immigrants (as well as other detained people in non-immigration detention settings) to prepare pre-packaged food purchased at facility commissaries. “We don’t really know the long-term consequences of putting pesticides in a microwave over and over again,” Mora Villalpando continued (relatedly, a recent report has continued to confirm ICE has intentionally targeted Mora Villalpando for her activism).

“There is no reason to use pesticides on eating surfaces or anywhere near a microwave. There is a real risk here of contaminating food,” Quirós-Alcalá continued to The Counter. “With the current data we have on how Covid is spread, there is no reasoning behind applying a pesticide on or in a microwave as a way of dealing with the spread of this virus.” Quirós-Alcalá said one of his “main concerns is for those with pre-existing respiratory conditions like asthma, that can be exacerbated by the use of these chemicals during the pandemic.”

Washington in April passed into law legislation that phases out the use of for-profit jails in the state by 2024, including NWIPC. “Washington has not supported use of private prisons, and this bill continues that policy by prohibiting private detention facilities from operating in the state,” Gov. Jay Inslee said according to the Associated Press. GEO Group has since sued over the law, claiming it “would unconstitutionally subvert federal authority,” The Seattle Times reported in May.

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