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Kansas prisons undergo asbestos testing

A number of prisons in Kansas will need to undergo asbestos abatement after an audit conducted by the Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC) revealed that guards and inmates were possibly exposed to the deadly mineral.

Two prisons are scheduled to have asbestos removed, but dozens of other detention facilities throughout the state may need to have abatement conducted in the future, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.

“Asbestos-containing materials were found in various buildings at DOC facilities,” Bill Miskell, spokesman for corrections department, told the news source. Asbestos was commonly used as a flame retardant and insulator in older structures.

He said that the state would remove pipe insulation, floor tiles and any other material that may contain asbestos. The audit and subsequent work were a direct response to the report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that showed that KDOC had bungled previous instances of asbestos removal, according to the Associated Press.

The EPA’s March report revealed that an asbestos abatement project at Topeka Correctional Facility (TCF) violated federal law. In 2005, prisoners who were not trained to handle asbestos and who were not given adequate protective gear were ordered to use heavy machinery to pulverize floor tiles to aid in their removal.

The EPA determined that by not testing the tiles for asbestos and failing to safeguard against asbestos exposure through training, respiratory equipment and proper supervision, TCF violated the Clean Air Act and the Toxic Substances Control Act.

The incident prompted the KDOC to respond by testing all of its facilities for asbestos. Specifically, private contractors, who were paid $170,000, examined structures in El Dorado, Ellsworth, Hutchinson, Larned, Norton, Stockton, Wichita, Lansing, Winfield and Topeka.

“We want to ensure that any KDOC renovation or repair project is done in a safe and appropriate manner and that the one project found by the EPA to be inappropriately done remains an isolated event,” Miskell told the Capital-Journal.

As a result of the investigation, a total of $75,000 will be reallocated to cleanup asbestos at prisons in Lansing and Winfield.

The Lansing Correctional Facility will undergo $68,000 worth of work to remove asbestos-containing pipe insulation above a restroom, classroom and library. The Winfield Correctional Facility will have asbestos ceiling removed from three hallways as well as pipe insulation taken out from various locations at a cost of $7,000.

At TCF, the audit found that thousands of square feet of floor tiles contained asbestos. However, Miskell said it was not an immediate danger to anyone and that it would be removed in the future.

“The department will have it removed by an asbestos abatement contractor at a time when further renovation is done on the building,” he told the news provider.

However, some are not happy with the KDOC’s decision to hold off on removing the offending materials in its facilities. One such person is Jane Carter, executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, a labor union.

“Why not remove it now?” she told the news source. “They’re putting inmates and staff at risk, but also the public.”

According to the Capital-Journal, the audit also revealed that asbestos was present in Hutchinson Correctional Facility’s flooring, walls, pipes and ceiling; Norton Correctional Facility’s insulation, ceiling and floor tile; Stockton Correctional Facility’s floor glue and vinyl sheeting; Wichita Work Release Facility’s mechanical and boiler rooms; and Larned Correctional Facility’s flooring, pipe joints and insulation.

“Why wait until something bad happens and someone is exposed?” said Carter.

Asbestos exposure can cause malignant mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer. According to the World Health Organization such illnesses kill 107,000 people worldwide each year.

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