No Records for 2005 Asbestos Work at Topeka Prison

March 16, 2010

Kansas officials say they have no records that asbestos-contaminated materials were properly handled during a 2005 dormitory renovation at the state’s prison for women.

The Topeka Capital-Journal filed an open records request with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. The agency released documents related to contracts for professional asbestos abatement at the prison in 2007, 2008 and 2009. State Department of Corrections officials produced two abatement contracts for 2001.

But the newspaper reported that neither agency had documentary evidence that the 2005 project under investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency complied with state and federal requirements.

Exposure to asbestos increases the risk of respiratory diseases, including lung cancer.

Corrections spokesman Bill Miskell said the department is waiting for additional information from the EPA before commenting further on the renovation project.

The inquiry started in November after the state health agency received a request from Topeka lawyer Keen Umbehr to examine whether regulations were followed when Topeka Correctional Facility staff members and inmates used mechanical grinders to pulverize asbestos-laced flooring into a powder.

Umbehr’s letter said individuals involved in the project weren’t properly trained to perform abatement work, weren’t issued protective clothing and weren’t informed of potential health risks.

The Capital-Journal reported that in at least one instance, work generated so much dust that furnace filters were repeatedly clogged with particles.

The EPA conducted an inspection earlier this year and recently forwarded a report to federal attorneys. EPA spokesman Chris Whitley said the attorneys will decide whether “any kind of enforcement action” should be taken.

Information from: The Topeka Capital-Journal,

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