Topeka — An asbestos removal project at the Topeka women’s prison failed to follow safety regulations, federal environmental officials said Thursday.
The Environmental Protection Agency issued a compliance order dated Wednesday against the Kansas Department of Corrections for failing to conduct a required asbestos inspection in 2005 before starting dormitory renovations at the Topeka Correctional Facility. It also said the state failed to notify the EPA before beginning a project where asbestos was present.
Further, the EPA said the state failed to provide adequate respirator protection for inmates and staff who pulverized material containing asbestos, a violation of the Toxic Substances Control Act. Exposure to asbestos increases the risk of respiratory diseases, including lung cancer.
The EPA didn’t issue a fine, but it ordered corrections officials to comply with federal law with future projects.
Corrections Secretary Roger Werholtz said Thursday the agency has taken steps to comply with the order. Werholtz said any future projects in the prison system will not begin until buildings are evaluated for the presence of asbestos and remediation is conducted to meet state and federal environmental guidelines.
The Topeka prison has been the subject of other allegations of misconduct, including sexual misconduct between staff and inmates and the trafficking of contraband.