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US EPA Takes Action Against Kansas Prison for Asbestos Violations

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued orders against the Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC) for violations of federal law concerning asbestos removal. The violations stem from a renovation in 2005-2006 at the Topeka Correctional Facility (TCF).

The EPA took two actions against the KDOC in March 2010. The first was an administrative compliance order. The order alleges that the KDOC violated the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants by failing to conduct a required asbestos inspection or notifying the EPA prior to renovating E-Dorm.

Under authority of the Federal Toxic Substances Control Act, the EPA also issued a notice of noncompliance against the KDOC for failing to provide appropriate respiratory protection, training, supervision, assessments and monitoring for workers involved in the renovation project.

Asbestos, a highly toxic mineral fiber found in a variety of pre-1980s building materials, is known to cause such fatal illnesses as asbestosis, lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the protective lining of the lungs, heart, chest and abdomen. Asbestos can only be removed by certified removal specialists in accordance with federal regulations.

During the renovation project, which lasted from April 2005 to October 2006, prisoners and employees at TCF claimed they were exposed to asbestos dust when floor tiles were ground with heavy machinery. Some workers wore paper face masks while others were provided no protective gear or training. Their complaints were ignored by prison managers.

The EPA’s compliance order found the KDOC had “failed to thoroughly inspect for the presence of asbestos-containing materials prior to commencing a renovation operation,” as required by federal regulations. The KDOC was ordered to provide the EPA with a list of all scheduled renovation projects to be conducted during the next year at TCF, and to provide a description of how the department will comply with federal regulations related to asbestos. Failure to comply with the order could subject the KDOC to civil administrative penalties of up to $32,500 per day. See: In the Matter of Kansas Department of Corrections, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Region VII), Docket No. CAA-07-2010-0017.

“We believe the EPA conducted a thorough and comprehensive review of the facts associated with the renovation of E-Dorm,” said then-KDOC Secretary Roger Werholtz. “As required in the findings of that report, the Department of Corrections has already taken steps to ensure that all Department buildings be evaluated for the presence of asbestos, and that any future renovation projects not be started until the building to be renovated is evaluated for the presence of asbestos and all necessary remediation is conducted within both state and federal guidelines.”

In related news, in April 2011 the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division announced it was investigating whether the civil rights of female prisoners at TCF were violated by being subjected to environmental toxin exposure or sexual abuse. The federal inquiries were sparked by a series of articles published in 2009 and 2010 by the Capital-Journal that detailed sexual improprieties between prisoners and guards, as well as asbestos exposure during the renovation project.

“We offer our full and complete cooperation in resolving this situation,” stated current KDOC Secretary Ray Roberts.

Sources: Capital-Journal, EPA press release,

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Related legal case

In the Matter of Kansas Department of Corrections