ciScience News Artical
Inmates and employees at 10 federal prisons were exposed to toxic metals and other hazardous substances while processing electronic waste for recycling, a four-year investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general found. A report issued last week by the Office of the Inspector General said unspecified amounts of that waste were shipped overseas, possibly to undeveloped countries. Reports have multiplied in recent years that electronic waste is being dumped in developing nations, where it can harm local populations by leaching into groundwater or attracting scavengers who are exposed to toxic elements.
“We have said all along that prisoners should not be managing toxic waste, and the federal government should never allow the export of such wastes to developing countries,” said Jim Puckett, executive director of the Basel Action Network, a group that advocates for rigorous standards for recycling electronic waste.
“Now we are finding out that not only did the federal government continue to allow it,” Mr. Puckett said, “they were doing it themselves and may still be doing it to this day.”
The recycling work is overseen by Unicor, a unit of the Federal Bureau of Prisons that employs inmates to manufacture items like furniture and license plates. Since 1997, it has accepted contracts for recycling computer monitors, televisions, printers and other electronic waste.
Although the study covered 10 prisons that recycled electronic waste, two — the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, Calif., and La Tuna in Anthony, Tex. — had ended those operations by the time the inspector general’s field investigation opened in 2006.
As of 2009, Unicor employed 1,000 workers at seven prisons processing 39 million pounds of electronic materials. The Federal Correctional Institution in Elkton, Ohio, stopped recycling electronic waste in 2008. Operations continue at the federal prisons in Fort Dix, N.J.; Marianna, Fla.; Texarkana, Tex.;...