“The record establishes that the presence of lead in the water is due to the corrosion of the water pipes, which are made of lead that dissolves in the water – but only when the water is still, as it is overnight, when no one is using it. When the water is flowing, the lead in the pipes does not dissolve. So the plaintiff was told to let the water run for a few minutes in the morning before drinking it, which eliminates the hazard, though it is only an interim precaution while the prison arranges to have the pipes treated or replaced. All this is remote from cruel and unusual punishment.”
“Many Americans live under conditions of exposure to various contaminants. The Eighth Amendment does not require prisons to provide prisoners with more salubrious air, healthier food, or cleaner water than are enjoyed by substantial numbers of free Americans. … It would be inconsistent with this principle to impose upon prisons in the name of the Constitution a duty to take remedial measures against pollution or other contamination that the agencies responsible for the control of these hazards do not think require remedial measures. If the environmental authorities think there’s no reason to do anything about a contaminant because its concentration is less than half the maximum in a proposed revision of the existing standards, prison officials cannot be faulted for not thinking it necessary for them to do anything either. They can defer to the superior expertise of those authorities.”
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Leinenweber, J., Posner, J.