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Despite mold contamination in California prisons, federal officials refuse to conduct testing

Corrections officers throughout the United States work in prisons that are contaminated with mold. Two of those prisons are located in the state of California.

Leaders of the prisons have let mold grow in the facilities for years and refused to test it. The refusal to test isn’t a bureaucratic incompetence, but rather a Bureau of Prisons policy. Top union corrections officers union officials said that leaders of the prisons have made promises to exterminate the mold growth, but they never kept those promises and refused to hire contractors to properly remove it.

Some of the issues are policies of the Bureau of Prisons, which were highlighted in a memo that was issued back in 2015.

“Currently, there is no OSHA standard for unacceptable levels of mold in the workplace,” the memo states. “According to OSHA, it is generally not necessary to identify the specific genus and species of mold,” the memo continues. “Since an individual’s susceptibility can vary greatly, mold sampling may not be reliable in determining health risks,” the memo states.

The memo also states that bureau officials do not suggest hiring an outside contractor as a “first step”; instead, prison officials are required to consult with bureau officials about any potential mold growth issues before they contact any contractors.

The memo was written by the Bureau of Prisons Chief Occupational and Employee Health, Sylvie Cohen. Wardens across the country find that the wording in the memo means that potentially harmful mold that employees breathe in at their workplace should not be tested, as per documents and several union leaders.

Union leaders have reported several health problems that current and former employees of prisons are dealing with as a result of mold exposure in the workplace. They state that prison leaders are reluctant to confirm that mold problems exist or to arrange for the work that would need to be done to get rid of mold. Several union leaders said that leaders of prisons only began addressing mold growth when they threatened to go to the press.

“Instead of looking for mold and seeing if there’s a problem, their feet have to be held to the fire before they do anything,” Aaron McGlothin, a union leader for a Mendota prison, said.

“By dragging their feet on this, we’ve cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars and put staff at serious risk,” McGlothin also said.

The Bureau of Prisons didn’t offer any additional guidance regarding the way that federal prisons are supposed to handle mold, but rather said that employees are encouraged to report mold growth whenever they find it. In a statement that they released, it said that mold and fungi exist in virtually all environments at some degree.

Mold Inspection & Testing Sacramento has vast experience performing mold tests in facilities throughout California. We strongly recommends the Bureau of Prisons arrange for regular mold to protect the safety and well-being of inmates, and staff. To speak with an MI&T representative, call 916.905.5391.