Wilson seeks hearing on defunct Elkton prison program

By D.A. Wilkinson



U.S. Rep Charlie Wilson, D-6th, wants to look at a prison program that may have exposed staff and prisoners to toxic materials.

Hillary Wicai Viers, Wilson’s spokeswoman, said Thursday, “Out of ongoing concern for both the guards and the prisoners, Congressman Wilson will be requesting a hearing on this matter from the House Judiciary Committee.”

But U.S. Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman Traci Billingsley said Thursday that a recycling program at the Federal Corrections Institute in Elkton has been closed but was not a danger.

Under the program, prisoners broke computers apart. The program began in 1997 and closed in 2009.

“There are no plans to reopen it,” Billingsley said.

But a report from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General indicated the computer- recycling program had problems. Similar programs were run at other federal prisons.

UNICOR, a federal waste-recycling program within the bureau of prisons, ran what it called its “e-waste recycling program.”

The report said, “UNICOR lacked proper engineering controls, work-practice controls, protective equipment and administrative controls such as hazard communication and training to mitigate toxic-metals exposures that resulted primarily from glass-breaking operations. As a result, UNICOR violated numerous OSHA regulations, including those dealing with cadmium, lead, hazard communication, personal protective equipment and respiratory protection.”

The report added, “Requests from the safety manager at Elkton for testing in 1999 were not acted upon by the bureau of prisons or UNICOR.”

UNICOR staff told the inspector general that the CRTs initially were broken in the middle of the factory with no ventilation of the resulting dust other than through the factory’s general air-handling system.

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