Thursday, October 28, 2010

Prison Industries E-waste Recycling Program Gets Failing Grade

Oct 27: The Council of Prison Locals (CPL) of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) responded to a massive October 21 report from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (OIG) entitled, A Review of Federal Prison Industries' Electronic-Waste Recycling Program. The main report is 433-pages and includes a 1008-page Appendix. The OIG report found that staff and inmates at several Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facilities, have been exposed to toxic metals including cadmium and lead. The exposure occurred in the electronic waste recycling program run by the Federal Prison Industries -- also known as UNICOR, a government corporation within (BOP). The report concluded that the UNICOR recycling program did not value worker safety and environmental protection.
    As of June 2010, UNICOR had 103 factories at 73 prison locations, employing approximately 17,000 inmates or 11 percent of the inmate population. The factories produce a variety of consumer products and services, office furniture and clothing, and industrial products, such as security fencing and vehicle tags. Starting in 1997, UNICOR began to accept computers, monitors, printers, and other types of e-waste for recycling at Federal prisons. UNICOR sold these e-waste items to its customers, sometimes following refurbishment, or disassembled the items into their component parts and sold the parts to recyclers for further processing.
    Specifically, the OIG said, "Our investigation found that prior to 2009 UNICOR's management of the e-waste recycling program resulted in numerous violations of health, safety, and environmental laws, regulations, and BOP policies. We concluded that UNICOR's Headquarters staff poorly managed UNICOR's e-waste program prior to 2009.6 UNICOR staff members often failed to perform hazard assessments on new e-waste operations or did so incorrectly, and important health and safety information was not shared with BOP executives and safety staff that could have prevented the violations from occurring. We also found that managers in UNICOR's Recycling Business Group, primarily General Manager Lawrence Novicky and his assistant, Bruce Ginther, concealed warnings about hazards related to toxic metals from UNICOR and BOP staff and from inmates. . . Overall, we found a culture at UNICOR that did not sufficiently value worker safety and environmental protection. We determined that the flawed organization and poor communication between UNICOR and the BOP made compliance difficult to achieve even with the best-intentioned employees. . ."
    CPL President Bryan Lowry said, "The inspector general's findings are in line with what we've been saying for years. Our staff members were exposed to dangerous levels of toxic metals, which BOP knew about and allowed to continue. The inspector general must hold BOP and UNICOR managers accountable for their actions and put appropriate safety measures in place to protect our staff." CPL indicated that it has been an advocate of the UNICOR work program, which provides inmates an opportunity to earn money, learn marketable skills, and become productive members of society once their incarceration ends. The program also keeps inmates occupied and out of trouble, which leads to a more safe and secure prison environment.
    Several BOP facilities had UNICOR e-waste operations, including the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Elkton, Ohio, where air quality was not monitored and staff and inmates were not provided protective equipment while breaking down computer monitors. AFGE Local 607 Vice President Bill Meek, who represents workers at FCI – Elkton, "The truth about these toxic exposures is finally coming out. Our primary concern has always been the safety of our staff, and we'll continue to fight for that."
    OIG summarized its major conclusions and said, "In conclusion, our investigation identified serious deficiencies with UNICOR's e-waste recycling program, especially prior to 2003. In recent years, UNICOR has made substantial progress to improve the safety of its e-waste operations. However, we believe that the success of these efforts in the future could be hindered by lingering, systemic problems such as the lack of technical resources, inadequate oversight, and a Health Services Division at BOP Headquarters that lacks authority to manage the delivery of quality safety services throughout the BOP and UNICOR. We believe our 12 recommendations can help ensure that BOP and UNICOR conduct its operations, including its e-waste recycling program, in compliance with federal regulations and BOP policies, and with the necessary concern for the health and safety of BOP staff and inmates."  

 Access the OIG report (click here); and Appendix (click here). Access a release from CPL (click here).