Electronics recycling may be a hazard for prisoners, workers

US federal report cites problems with materials handling, medical monitoring at Ohio prison

Breaking rocks is one thing, but breaking monitors is a potential health hazard for US federal prisoners and prison employees, according to a US government review that faulted safety practices at one correctional facility where electronics equipment is recycled.

For years, according to an initial report written by staffers at the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), inmates at the federal prison in Elkton, Ohio, recycled monitors, computer chips and other electronics gear used by government agencies without respiratory protection or environmental controls to limit their exposure to lead and cadmium. Critics have claimed that such practices are as bad as what takes place in third-world countries, and there was little in the NIOSH report to disabuse that charge.

The report, dated July 16 and written in the form of a letter to an official in the inspector general's office at the US Department of Justice, has yet to be posted on the NIOSH Web site. But it was made public Monday (download PDF) by a group called Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) that is advocating changes at Elkton and other federal prisons that recycle electronics equipment.

The NIOSH staffers also faulted the medical surveillance at the Elkton facility, saying that it didn't comply with federal safety rules. "No medical exams (including physical examinations) are done on inmates; staff receive inconsistent examinations and biological monitoring by their personal physicians," the report said.

The worst practices occurred before 2003, and safety improvements have been made at Elkton since then, according to NIOSH. But the report recommended a number of other steps that the agency wants to see done to protect prisoners and Elkton employees, including improvements to an exhaust ventilation system and full compliance with all federal occupational-safety standards.

NIOSH also is conducting reviews at federal prisons in other US states, to assist the DOJ's inspector general in an ongoing investigation of the health and safety practices used in the electronics recycling programs. The final report by NIOSH will cover its evaluations of all three recycling programs.

The recycling practices used by prison-based operations have been drawing attention from federal employee unions and environmental groups. Jeff Ruch, PEER's executive director, said today that he would like to see the federal government shut down the recycling programs until all the proper safeguards are put in place.

Ruch added that the history of the programs raises accountability issues concerning managers who ignored or suppressed information about the lack of safety procedures. And he claimed that despite the improvements cited by NIOSH, prisoners are still smashing monitors with hammers. "If they are going to do it, they ought to do it right," Ruch said.

PEER's press release about the NIOSH report included a statement from Bill Meek, vice president of the union local that represents workers at the Elkton prison, saying that the report "verifies our concerns" about staff members being exposed to toxins.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Patrick Thibodeau

Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill


I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?