OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington state has ended a more than two-decade-old program that used prisoners to remove asbestos-containing material, a newspaper reported Monday.
The state also paid a fine of more than $70,000 to settle a state investigation into cleanup practices last June at the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Purdy, a project that the Department of Labor and Industries says exposed inmate workers to asbestos, The News Tribune of Tacoma reported (http://bit.ly/1r9hIO3 ).
The state Department of Corrections says the decision to end the cleanup program and the settlement were unrelated, and it disputes that work teams were exposed.
Seven inmates from Cedar Creek Corrections Center in Littlerock who were working at the Purdy prison may have inhaled the dangerous material that can cause lung disease or cancer, according to the Department of Labor and Industries, which conducted the investigation.
The workers, who were trained and certified in asbestos removal, spent two nine-hour night shifts removing 4,000 feet of old vinyl floor tiles and adhesive in a dining area of the Purdy prison's kitchen building. The investigation found shoddy work practices, including the failure of crews to soak the dry material in water in order to keep dust out of the air.
And while inmates wore masks, gloves and other protective equipment, they didn't have it on at all times, and the investigation found that supervisors frequently checked on them and didn't have them take corrective measures.
The Department of Corrections didn't acknowledge guilt as part of the settlement but will conduct more training and buy more equipment in exchange for labor department cutting its original $141,000 penalty in half.
The 23-year-old program that paid prisoners $4 an hour to clean up the asbestos was shut down on Dec. 31.
"We had already been planning to shut the program down because of the risk" of exposure, Corrections spokeswoman Norah West said.
Copyright The Associated Press