Suit Claims Jail Renovations Put Inmate, Employee Health at Risk

SANTA FE, N.M. — Citing a number of dangerous health impacts from blurred vision to chronic nosebleeds, inmates at the Santa Fe County Jail allege in a new lawsuit that their health was repeatedly put at risk during ongoing jail improvement and renovation projects in 2014. The suit, which was filed March 11, is requesting class action status.

Inmates involved in the suit claim that renovations to the jail’s showers and restrooms resulted in their ongoing exposure to harmful amounts of dust and chemical fumes, according to Albuquerque Journal, which “created an epidemic of several ailments.” The suit further claims that inmates experienced stomachaches, rashes, hives, digestive problems, vomiting, painful and difficult breathing and a tightness in the lungs, which they “directly attributed to the conditions created by the renovation.” These symptoms also reportedly did not cease when the project ended.

Rothstein, Donatelli, Hughes, Dahlstrom, Schoenburg & Bienvenu law firm of Tempe has filed the suit and is requesting damages from Santa Fe County, the jail’s former warden and the company that did the work, Industrial Commercial Coatings LLC of Albuquerque, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

The suit estimates that between 300 and 500 inmates were affected, along with three jail employees, when Industrial Commercial Coatings applied a sealant containing the toxic chemical isocynate to the facility’s restrooms and shower areas. It also claims that the project team, which completed work over nearly 29,000 square feet of the facility, ignored safety protocols and continuously exposed inmates to the toxic chemicals for the duration of the months-long project. This also included exposure to inmate bedding and food. Inmates were further exposed to fine airborne particles of metal, paint, cement and another type of sealant, according to the suit, and toxic fumes were also dispersed throughout the jail via the HVAC system. Jail officials reportedly made no attempt to protect the inmates, many of whom requested medical treatment as a result.

Inmate representatives of the plaintiff class include a member of an inmate work crew assigned to help with the renovation and an inmate assigned to clean the jail’s commons areas, according to the Albuquerque Journal. The suit states that neither was supplied with protective gear, despite the fact that such gear — including hooded hazmat suits with respirators and face masks — were worn by Industrial Commercials Coatings employees.

As the litigation is still pending, Santa Fe County officials have thus far declined to comment on the suit.