Inmates exposed to toxins in e-waste recycling program, says report

A federal recycling program that uses cheap prison labor to recycle computers and other electronics exposes inmates to unsafe conditions, says a report released by activist and environmental groups last week. Prisoners paid from 23 cents to $1.15 an hour by government-owned Federal Prison Industries, Inc., also known as UNICOR, are potentially exposed to toxins like lead and cadmium, the report charges. “[P]risoners are human beings, too, and they deserve to be protected and to know what they’re being exposed to,” says Leroy Smith, a former prison health and safety manager who accused UNICOR of providing unsafe working conditions at a California facility in 2001. In summer 2005, the Federal Bureau of Prisons found that at least three UNICOR facilities exposed prisoners and staff members to toxins at levels exceeding federal limits, but claimed the problem had been fixed; this year, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel said that finding was inadequate and called for further investigation. UNICOR claims it follows all health and safety rules.