Washington – The Department of Corrections (DoC) in Washington has closed down a very old program staffed by the inmates for removing dangerous asbestos material from various prison facilities.
The state Department of Labor (DoL) originally issued a $141,000 fine against the DoC after finding that the inmate workers had been exposed to toxic dust and fibers of asbestos. However, later the department reduced the penalty to $70500 as per a settlement.
According to the DoC, the program’s closure was not at all related to the penalties issued by the labor department.
The labor department found that the department of corrections allowed the inmate workers to sweep floor tiles containing dangerous asbestos at the time of a project at Washington Corrections Centre for Women (WCCW). Several other violations were also found, such as the DoC failed to enforce the use of protective equipment like respirators while sweeping asbestos-containing tiles.
Asbestos is a very dangerous mineral which is known to cause fatal diseases including lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma. Individuals with a history of long-term exposure to asbestos are especially at the risk of developing such deadly asbestos-related conditions.
Elaine Fischer, of the Labor & Industries Department, said 5 of the cited violations were willful, which means the DoC knew or should’ve known regarding the associated hazards, but disregarded them and allowed workers to work with and around a known carcinogen without taking sufficient safety precautions and without providing the workers with enough protective apparel, according to Fischer.
Fischer said the likelihood of asbestos exposure was present all the time. The consequences of asbestos exposure and inhalation of asbestos fibres are huge. Fischer says none knows whether or not anyone has been exposed. In general, people might not understand the seriousness of asbestos exposure but they could develop fatal asbestos-related conditions like malignant mesothelioma after 3 or 4 decades, he said.
The Department of Corrections pleaded no guilt under a settlement. The department challenged the discovery that inmates or employees were in fact exposed to toxic dust.
In a recent statement, the Department of Corrections said it regrets the issue. The state regulations were not properly followed during asbestos handling, the DoC said.
Under the settlement, the DoC has to train nearly 1000 employees in the safe and legal ways to deal with asbestos. The DoC is required to by further safety equipment, such as respirators, as well.