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May 17, 2006
This week, the Inspector General for the U.S. Justice Department announced an investigation into the computer recycling enterprises operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. According to a press release from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the goal of the investigation is to determine the extent of health hazards to staff and inmates, and why the bureau failed to act on red flags raised by its own safety managers.
The investigation follows the U.S. Office of Special Counsel’s recent validation of claims by whistleblower Leroy Smith, a former safety manager at Atwater Federal Prison, a maximum-security institution near Merced, Calif. Atwater is one of seven federal prisons involved in computer recycling operations under the prison industry authority known as UNICOR. In December 2004, Smith submitted documents raising concerns about exposure to “excessive levels of toxic materials,” in an environment where inmates were required to use hammers to smash computer terminals and were provided only cardboard boxes to protect themselves from contact with hazardous lead, cadmium, barium and beryllium particles.
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