Inmates at the federal prison in Tucson, Az., may be exposing themselves and prison guards to toxins from computer recycling, says the Tucson Weekly. Despite safety problems with similar operations at other prisons, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has not inspected the Tucson recycling program. The medium security Tucson unit is one of seven U.S. facilities with such operations. The program’s business contracts are handled by the government-owned corporation Unicor.
Unicor uses about 1,000 hammer-wielding prisoners to dismantle used computers, which releases dangerous metals including beryllium, lead, cadmium. and barium. Exposure to those toxins can cause nervous-system damage, and prostate or lung cancer. A single television or computer monitor can contain up to four pounds of lead. At the Atwater federal prison in Arizona, inmates in the computer recycling area were subjected to unsafe levels of cadmium and lead for at least 80 days. Federal Bureau of Prisons director Harley Lappin in June cited “a substantial likelihood that a violation of law, rule or regulation and a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety has occurred.” Disciplinary action against several prison officials is pending.