Newton Prison Faces Lawsuit Due to Radioactive Radon Levels

Two lawsuits have been filed against Garner Correctional Institute claiming that dangerous levels of uranium and radon at the prison have caused cancer among inmates and corrections officers.

The most recent lawsuit alleges that dangerous levels of radon and uranium at the prison killed at least two corrections officers and caused almost a dozen others to contract cancer, according to attorney Lori Welch-Rubin.

A class action lawsuit was announced in late July in New Haven on behalf of the corrections officers, and it’s headed to Superior Court in Waterbury. Scott Semple, the Commissioner of the State Department of Correction, and other correction officials are the targets in both lawsuits.

According to the Surgeon General, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States today. High levels of radon were discovered in the prison in late 2013 after a teacher in one of its classrooms complained about potential exposure.

Federal guidelines from the Environmental Protection Agency warn that radon levels higher than 4.0 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) are not suitable for people to be around and qualify as “action level.” Areas of the prison showed levels in excess of 20 pCi/L, according to the federal suit.

“Forcing inmates to be exposed involuntarily to radon, a recognized human carcinogen, far in excess of any publicized safe level constitutes deliberate indifference by correctional officials,” that suit states.

Welch-Rubin stated that employees were told about the problem back in 2014 and were given a one-year window to apply for workers compensation benefits, but those who had already retired or were transferred to other facilities were not notified. A retired guard was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer in 2016 and lived for only five months after his diagnosis.

“If he had been told years before when state officials knew about the problem he’d probably still be alive today,” Welch-Rubin said.

The federal lawsuit also claims that officials intentionally didn’t test areas where the inmates were housed for radon. A mitigation system was put in place after the testing, but it doesn’t cover areas where the inmates are housed, said the lawsuit.

“The Department of Corrections removed and censored the article as part of its ongoing effort to cover up what took place at Garner and to keep prisoners who were housed at Garner ignorant of the potential medical risks,” stated one of the inmates, Scott Pickles, in an affidavit filed as part of the federal lawsuit.

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