Two men who became seriously ill after working at a Hicksville magazine distributor located atop a former nuclear fuel plant have been awarded $12 million in a federal negligence lawsuit against Verizon Communications Inc.
Gerard DePascale, and Liam Neville, each were awarded $5 million, and DePascale’s wife, Joanne, $2 million, after their lawyers successfully argued the men were sickened by toxins that remained at the site years after operations ceased in 1967.
DePascale and Neville are among the thousands of people who have worked at companies located on three large lots – a block long together – that was the former nuclear-fuel maker Sylvania Electric Products Co.’s land.
The site on Cantiague Rock Road in Hicksville has been the subject of 27 investigations and cleanups since 1987, when the Nassau health department found PCBs, chlorinated solvents and arsenic in dozens of buried drums, according to an Army Corps of Engineers report in 2007. Radiological toxins at the site included thorium-232, and uranium-238, -235 and -234, the report said.
Unlike previous lawsuits, the DePascale case focused not on the radioactive materials but the chlorinated solvents used primarily to clean parts and machinery as the primary cause of the men’s sicknesses.
Joseph Gonzalez, a lawyer for the men and Joan DePascale, charged that rather than promptly notify workers, restrict access to the site and clean it up, Verizon and its predecessors “chose to hide and mislead and not do anything” to prevent human contact with contaminants, long after it became aware of them after the 1987 investigation.
Exposure left DePascale, 48, with a rare form of cancer that required removal of a lung. Neville, 50, developed kidney disease that requires nine hours of dialysis daily. Both worked at Magazine Distributors from the early 1990s through 2002.
From 1952 to 1967, the Sylvania plant processed uranium into rods primarily for use in nuclear power plants. Documents in previously filed suits reported that workers routinely incinerated scrap uranium into the open air, and dumped toxic cleaning solvents and metals into underground tanks and sumps.
The site, now supervised by the Corps of Engineers, remains under investigation after a partial cleanup by Verizon that saw trainloads of radioactive soil carted to Utah.
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