The State Department of Corrections has shut down a decades-old program staffed by inmates to remove asbestos from prison facilities.
The Department of Labor and Industries originally fined the DOC $141,000 after determining that inmate workers were exposed to asbestos dust, but the penalty was reduced to $70,500 in a settlement.
The DOC said the closure of the program was unrelated to the fine from Labor and Industries.
The report found that, among other things, the DOC allowed inmates to sweep kitchen flooring tile containing asbestos during a project at the Washington Corrections Center for Women. Investigators also determined that the use of respirators was not enforced.
Asbestos is a known carcinogen. Exposure to asbestos can cause mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer.
Labor and Industries’ Elaine Fischer said five of the violations were determined to be willful.
“That means that the employer knew, or should have known, or disregarded the safety regulations regarding the procedures for handling the materials containing asbestos,” Fischer said.
“The potential for exposure is present all of the time. And the consequences are huge,” Fischer said. “You may not know you’re exposed. You may not realize the seriousness of it, but 30 years later you develop asbestos-related lung disease or cancer.”
Under the settlement, the DOC admitted no guilt. The DOC disputed the finding that employees or inmates were exposed to asbestos dust.
In a statement, the DOC says it regrets that state regulations weren’t followed in handling asbestos.
Under the deal, the DOC will train about a thousand employees on how to handle asbestos properly. The department will also buy more safety equipment, including respirators.