Inmates in 10 Federal Prisons Exposed to Toxic Metals

jail cell toxic waste chemical photo

Photo: Abardwell

According to a recent story in the New York Times, prisoners and employees in 10 federal prisons were exposed to toxic metals while processing electronic waste for recycling. The program, which has been overseen by Unicor since 1997, works with federal prisons to recycle computer monitors, televisions, printers, and other pieces of electronic waste.Unicor employed 1,000 workers in federal prisons processing 39 million pounds of electronic waste. The report, as issued by the Justice Department, also questioned whether the electronic waste was shipped abroad to developing countries, exposing them to undue harm, according to the story.

While the program has been halted at several prisons including one in Ohio, the program still continues at Fort Dix, N.J.; Marianna, Fla.; Texarkana, Tex.; Atwater, Calif.; Leavenworth, Kan.; Lewisburg, Pa.; and Tucson.

Traci Billingsley, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Prisons said:

Based on the results of biological monitoring and hundreds of interviews with staff and inmate workers, the O.I.G. determined that exposure to toxic metals during current disassembly activity is negligible.

The report didn't directly link the recycling program to sickened prisoners and employees, but it did find clear evidence of criminal conduct, specifically, exposing inmates to toxic substances like cadmium and lead.

According to the New York Times:

After complaints arose several years ago that the work was making prisoners sick, the inspector general, working with several other federal agencies, conducted 200 interviews, reviewed 10,000 pages of documents and inspected the computer records of Unicor personnel.

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