‘My reaction is pretty much like anyone else’s: That’s nuts, what a waste’
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, New York’s then governor Andrew Cuomo announced a bold plan to use prison labour to make hand sanitizer to help alleviate a supply shortage.
Fast forward to now and 700,000 gallons of inmate-made hand sanitizer is sitting out in the sun under the cover of blue tarps at a former airfield, located on a remote Central N.Y. village. Much of the sanitizers are past their use-by dates.
Each gallon of the stuff cost $6.10 to make, which means about $4.3 million worth of disinfectant is stashed away, untouched, with no plan to deploy it, WRGB 6 reports.
The ‘NYS Clean’ labelled bottles come in an array of sizes and are stored on 4,000 pallets stretching the length of three football fields, reports Politico.
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The covert cache, blanketed in blue tarps, occupies the runway of an abandoned airfield now functioning as a NYS Preparedness training centre in Oriskany, about 90 minutes west of Albany.
The cost of disposal could run into the low millions of dollars and would require hundreds of trucks to ship out for incineration, environmental experts told the publication.
“There is a way to properly dispose of it,” said Diana Aga, director of the RENEW Institute at the University of Buffalo, an initiative focusing on environmental research. “The issue here is the volume.”
WRGB reached out to the NYS Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, which said, in part: “Due to the quantity of this flammable material, it must be stored outdoors to meet fire code and the location offers the necessary space to do so at no additional cost to taxpayers. NYS is in the process of safely disposing of the material.”
State reps on both sides of the aisle expressed shock to WRGB when presented with the photos.
“My reaction is pretty much like anyone else’s: That’s nuts, what a waste,” said the state’s Republican Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh.
Cuomo ordered prisoners at three state correctional facilities to produce hand sanitizer from March 2020 to October 2020. They were paid an average of about $0.65 cents an hour. Prisoner rights advocates regard these arrangements as a form of modern slavery.