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All state prisons locked down after employees sickened by substance

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This June 1, 2018, file photo, shows a housing unit in the west section of the State Correctional Institution at Phoenix in Collegeville, Pa.

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections locked down all state prisons Wednesday because several staff members recently became sickened by unknown substances.

Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said all prison mailrooms also would be closed to non-legal mail and visits with prisoners would be prohibited until the lockdown is lifted.

There have been at least five incidents this month of prison staff members at facilities in Greene, Fayette and Mercer counties becoming ill after contact with a substance, officials have reported.

“Our state prisons, especially those in the western part of the state, have experienced recent incidents in which employees have been sickened and we need to get to the bottom of this issue now,” Wetzel said in a news release.

Corrections officials instituted several new protocols. All employees now must wear personal protective equipment, including gloves. Employees will undergo training immediately for situational awareness, the release said.

The department has 24 prisons across the state, including ones in Greene, Mercer, Fayette, Indiana and Somerset counties. State prisons in Pittsburgh and Westmoreland County have closed in recent years.

Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, [email protected] or via Twitter @byrenatta.

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