A multi-year investigation by the Justice Department Office of Inspector General (IG) recently released declares that the federal prison industry that recycled computers and other electronics systematically violated health, safety and environmental laws.
Despite findings that officials willfully endangered thousands of prison staff and inmates, none will be prosecuted and most of the officials have retired without any sanction, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). (WCxKit)
The report validates concerns voiced by a Bureau of Prisons (BOP) safety manager, Leroy Smith, who first began raising alarms in 2001. The IG investigation undertaken in 2006 at the request of PEER and others looked at prison computer operations in eight states (CA, AZ, TX, KS, OH, PA, NJ and FL) during the six years from 2003 to 2009.
The report details that:
- Prison and prison industry officials committed “numerous violations of health, safety, and environmental laws and regulations” in which “staff and inmates were needlessly exposed” to more than 30 heavy metals, particularly lead and cadmium
- The dangers were known but ignored by officials who “concealed warnings about hazards” from the recycling operations. In one instance, officials disabled a factory’s fire alarm system for three years so that it would not be set off by clouds of toxic dust
- While there is a “strong likelihood” that thousands of prison staff and inmates were exposed to excessive levels of harmful materials over the years the health effects are unknown because the prisons did no medical surveillance and did not keep required records of injuries and illnesses.
The IG stated that the majority of the violations had abated by mid-2009 but the most hazardous activity, glass-breaking of cathode ray tubes, ended due to “economic considerations” not safety concerns. However, the report warned that even this progress could be reversed by “lingering systemic problems such as lack of technical resources [and] inadequate oversight.” In addition, profound legacy contamination from years of dangerous operations at prison factories has yet to be assessed.
The report also cited “numerous” acts of illegality and misconduct by BOP officials, including “willful violations” resulting in the “endangerment of employees.” (WCxKit)
Although BOP is a unit of the Justice Department, DOJ took no action on any aspect covered by the IG report.
Author Rebecca Shafer, JD, President of Amaxx Risks Solutions, Inc. is a national expert in the field of workers compensation. She is a writer, speaker and website publisher. Her expertise is working with employers to reduce workers compensation costs, and her clients include airlines, healthcare, printing/publishing, pharmaceuticals, retail, hospitality and manufacturing.
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