A federal appeals court recently found that Garner inmates and staff do have sufficient legal standing to continue their lawsuit against the state.
A federal appeals court will let Connecticut inmates continue a lawsuit against the state and Garner Correctional Institution.
The inmates, reports The Associated Press, say corrections officials knowingly exposed inmates to radon gas without taking any steps to mitigate the danger. The lawsuit accuses Garner officials of creating unconstitutional, inhumane conditions, in which extremely high amounts of radon were allowed to contaminate prisoners’ living quarters.
And the inmates aren’t the only ones suing, either. A separate lawsuit, filed by former guards and facility staff, is still pending in a Connecticut state court. Several of the plaintiffs in that case say they contracted and continue to suffer from respiratory disorders caused by radon.
According to The Associated Press, Connecticut has known about Garner’s potential radon problem for decades—perhaps as early as 1992, when the prison first opened.
“The state knew that the site was considered by the [Environmental Protection Agency] to be the number one radon site in Connecticut before they built it,” attorney Martin Minnella told the Connecticut Law Tribune in 2018.
Minnella, of the Middlebury, Connecticut-based Martin Minnella, Tramuta, & Edwards law firm, said the state decided to continue construction even after learning of the EPA’s evaluation. And instead of taking efforts to control radon exposure, Garner was built without enhanced water filtration or careful well analyses.
“According to the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Geological Survey, which evaluated the radon potential in the United States and developed a Map of Radon Zones to assist national, state, and local organizations and building code officials in deciding whether radon-resistant features should be appliable to new construction, Newtown, Connecticut is located in Zone One—Highest Potential […] which designation reflects the average short-term radon measurement in a building without implementation of radon control methods,” the lawsuit states.
State officials, however, have repeatedly insisted that Newtown did not have the ability to accurately measure radon—and that radon often cannot be detected in a new structure until it is already built.
But officials did not begin testing for radon gas until 2013, when an in-house educator submitted a request. Furthermore, the lawsuit says that Garner’s site was once used as a waste disposal site for the former Fairfield Hills State Hospital, making the prison structure more vulnerable to cracking and chemical infiltration.
Connecticut, says The A.P., has required radon testing in classrooms of all kinds from 2003. But that standard was not, apparently, applied to the prison.
But when tests were conducted, they found a dangerous amount of radon in prison classrooms, then throughout the facility.
The Connecticut Attorney General’s Office noted that the court’s decision to allow the case to continue simply means that the state is not immune from the lawsuit, and that its attorneys will continue to vigorously defend the state Department of Corrections.