There was a thick layer of dust on the air intake units at Penobscot County Jail, so about 40 inmates were shipped to other facilities earlier this week to allow cleaners access to the ducts blocked by bars, Sheriff Troy Morton said Friday.

“It was filthy,” the sheriff said of the air cleaning units that were installed about 25 years ago. “It needed to be done.”

No health problems were reported before the cleaning, Morton said.

The $74,670 air duct cleaning project by Indoor Air Technologies started Monday and is expected to take a month, Morton said. After the two biggest units were finished on Monday and Tuesday, several of the displaced inmates returned. They were sent to Cumberland County Jail or Somerset County Jail.

“We sent a friendly note to local [police departments] and the courts to let them know,” Morton said.

Jail officials didn’t want local police or the court system to be caught off guard, in case they were looking for a specific person at the jail for interviews or for court, the sheriff said.

“It’s an everyday battle,” Morton said, referring to the fact the overcrowded jail in Bangor typically boards out inmates on a daily basis.

The jail has a listed capacity of 156 inmates, with an average daily population of 177 and typically boarding out 56 inmates at other facilities, officials said earlier this year.

With the 40 displaced by the air duct cleaning project, the total boarded out Thursday was 90, the sheriff said.

Jail officials also are taking advantage of the fact the cells are empty and are painting and cleaning them, Morton said. The paint and supplies cost around $3,500, he said, adding he didn’t know the expense of the duct cleaning work.

“The labor is being done by inmates and supervised by our staff,” the sheriff said.

A total of 16 inmates spent a portion of Friday cleaning and removing old paint or applying new paint to the walls, ceilings and furniture, Morton said.

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