ATWATER -- Inmates at U.S. Penitentiary Atwater were exposed to hazardous elements while breaking glass at the prison's electronics recycling center from 2002-03 because authorities failed to safeguard them properly.
That's according to a report released in December by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.
The findings mirror the U.S. Bureau of Prison's 2006 investigations into the matter, showing the problem had been solved.
The Atwater prison's spokesman, Miguel Chavez, said in a statement that the prison is committed to healthy workplaces for its inmates and employees. Any safety issues in the past have been corrected, he said.
"The continued safety of both staff and inmates alike is a top priority of the Bureau of Prisons and Federal Prison Industries," said Chavez. "The FPI factory at USP Atwater has been in operation since 2002, and has undergone substantial changes. For example, glass-breaking operations were halted several years ago."
The report found that inmates had worked without the proper respiratory protection for several months in 2002 and were exposed to cadmium and lead, both of which can cause adverse health effects.
It further pointed out that the prison's medical surveillance program failed to comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's lead and cadmium standards. The inmates were exposed while breaking glass monitors.
The report was originally prompted by a request for technical assistance in a U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General investigation into the safety at Federal Prison Industries' electronics recycling facilities.
The report looked into exposure to hazardous substances at three facilities across the nation, including the Atwater prison.
Dismantling computer monitors can release clouds of toxic metals such as lead and cadmium. Exposure to those toxins can cause cancer, kidney disease, central nervous system damage, reproductive impairments or death, according to OSHA.
UNICOR, the trade name for seven-decade-old Federal Prison Industries, has eight electronics recycling centers across the country.