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Excess Prisoner-Made Hand Sanitizer Costing N.Y. Taxpayers Millions to Dispose Of

by David M. Reutter

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were national shortages of personal protective equipment. Hand sanitizer was in great need. Former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) had a solution: Put prisoners to work making it.

Cuomo turned to the state’s prison industry, Corcraft Products, calling it a win-win: Local governments and healthcare facilities would get free hand sanitizer, while state prisoners working for Corcraft would earn about 16 cents an hour.

“New York can make a one-gallon bottle for $6.10 and a seven-ounce bottle for $1.12 which is much cheaper than [on] the open market,” Cuomo said during the product launch. [See: PLN, Apr. 2020, p.38.]

The irony of using prisoners to make the hand sanitizer, labeled “NYS Clean,” was that they were not allowed to possess it, due to its 75% isopropyl alcohol-based formula. After public outcry, however, that policy was reversed.

In prison, things are usually either neglected or done to excess. In this case, a market study for the new product was neglected, so it was manufactured in quantities that far exceeded demand. Nevertheless, state officials lined up behind Cuomo’s claims.

 “At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic two years ago, NYS Clean hand sanitizer was mass produced by the state and made widely available to New Yorkers at a critical time when it was in short supply,” insisted the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.

According to Cuomo spokesperson Rich Azzopardi, 11 million bottles of NYS Clean were manufactured. Of those, 7.5 million bottles were distributed to New Yorkers free of charge. But the state still has the rest: 706,172 gallons of hand sanitizer sitting on 4,000 pallets that stretch the length of three football fields down an abandoned airport runway near Utica. Because of its high alcohol content, the product is flammable and now considered hazardous waste.

The state first planned to auction the unused product, which cost about $4.3 million to make. But it ended up agreeing to pay $2.32 million for disposal to Rochester-based Eastman Kodak Co., which is distilling the sanitizer for manufacturing use. The process began in September 2022 and is anticipated to take ten months to complete.  

Sources: Politico, WHAM

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