Federal prison staff and inmates faced primitive and hazardous working conditions in an electronic waste recycling program that violated more than 30 job safety requirements, says a Justice Department inspector general’s report quoted by FairWarning.org. The report said recycling workers were repeatedly exposed to high levels of cadmium and lead, both toxic metals, because of a pervasive indifference to safety by Federal Prison Industries, a for-profit corporation in the U.S. Bureau of Prisons that aims to teach job skills to inmates.
Prison Industries, also known as UNICOR, had been under investigation by the inspector general since 2006. It employs 17,000 at more than 100 prison factories that make everything from office furniture to vehicle components. The probe was limited to the recycling plants it currently runs at seven U.S. prisons. The recycling program, launched in the mid-1990s, at its peak included 10 prison sites. It take in computers, monitors, and other devices, refurbishing some and dismantling others to salvage electronic components, metals and glass. The devices contain toxic metals such as arsenic, mercury, beryllium, along with cadmium and lead, and are dangerous to handle without proper ventilation, respiratory protection and training. The report describes a culture of disregard for safety in the early years of the program, that included ignoring or concealing hazards to maintain production schedules and cut costs.