Immigration advocacy groups are demanding detention centers stop using a powerful disinfectant that has allegedly caused serious side effects among detainees.
According to Yahoo! News, Freedom for Immigrants and Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice filed the complaint with the Department of Homeland Security on May 21, claiming Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities in California and Florida are using a toxic chemical in their attempts to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. The disinfectant spray in question is called HDQ Neutral, which, according to the manufacturer, should be used "outdoors or in a well-ventilated area."
The advocacy group's complaint included a number of testimonials from detainees, who say the chemical has caused a wide range of physical ailments and side effects, including nose bleeds, fainting, headaches, skin rashes, stomach pains, swollen eyes, and painful breathing.
"The guards have started spraying this chemical everywhere, all over everything, all the time. It causes a terrible reaction on our skin," one detainee reportedly said. "When we ask for medical assistance, they just give us some cream to put over it. The spray also hurts our airways. When I blow my nose, blood comes out. They are treating us like animals. One person fainted and was taken out, I don't know what happened to them. There is no fresh air."
The detainees' reports were submitted through a hotline operated by Freedom for Immigrants. The organizations said they have been collecting testimonials about the use of the disinfectant since May 11.
"I started bleeding from my nose after being in contact with a strong chemical they are using. I am still bleeding, more than five hours later," another detainee claimed. "An official had entered the bathrooms in the morning and sprayed a very strong disinfectant. The spray is called HDQ Neutral. I was told about the spray's name by an employee. When I complained to [supervisory staff], she told me that it is not her problem, but that of the cleaning and safety staff and to take it up with them. The staff had placed advisories on the walls, but it did not mention any safety risks or to wait a period of time before using the bathrooms."
ICE spokesperson Alexx Pons responded to the complaint, which primarily focuses on reports out of Adelanto detention center in San Bernardino County, California. According to LAist, the facility was holding 1,200 immigrant detainees last month, and that there has only been one confirmed case of COVID-19 among Adelanto staff and detainees.
"[ICE] is committed to maintaining the highest facility standards of cleanliness and sanitation, safe work practices, and control of hazardous substances and equipment to ensure the environmental health and safety of detainees, staff, volunteers and contractors from injury and illness," Pons said in a statement to Yahoo! News. "Disinfectant formulations used at Adelanto are compliant with detention standards, registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and used according to manufacturers’ instructions for routine cleaning and maintenance of the facility. Any assertion or claim to the contrary is false."
According to ICE, there were 818 confirmed cases of coronavirus among detainees as of Wednesday. Those who tested positive for the disease are reportedly in isolation or under monitoring.