Feature: Wednesday, October 17, 2002
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Poisoned Lives

An alleged cover-up at Carswell has had excruciating consequences for a handful of workers.

By Betty Brink

Oct. 4, 1999, dawned clear and sunny over the Tom Charles household on Eagle Mountain Lake. Charles, always the first to rise, stepped outside to get the paper, savored the crisp, clean smells of fall and thanked God for his blessings. Back inside he made the coffee, put some bacon in the skillet, whistled to his wife Judy to get up, roused his 6-year-old son out of bed for school, and tucked the covers a little closer around his sleeping 3-year-old boy.

Life couldn’t have been better for the muscular and robustly healthy 40-year-old blue-collar worker that morning. His marriage was good, his boys were growing up strong and bright, and he had a high-paying job as a construction foreman at the nearby Bureau of Prisons’ Federal Medical Center for Women. He had money put back for his kids’ college, and he and his wife Judy were remodeling their dream home on the lake where they intended to grow old together.

Three years later, sitting at the round dining table in the still-unfinished house, the tall, gaunt, and critically ill Charles looked back on that very ordinary morning as a watershed moment in the life of his family.

“It was the day our future was stolen,” he said quietly.

But as he kissed his family good-bye and left for work, all he had on his mind was a rush job he’d been ordered to start that morning, converting a dusty room in the hospital’s crowded fifth floor chronic-care unit into a laundry. The first part of the remodel would be removing some cabinets — and he was about to discover the job wasn’t going to be easy.

The stainless-steel cabinets, about waist-high and 10 feet long on a side, ran along two walls of the small room and were lined with inch-thick sheets of lead, riveted and bolted in place. Over the next four days, he and two other civilian workers, one of whom was his brother Randy, and several female inmate workers removed the lead with crowbars and hammers and, when necessary, with grinders, saws, and chisels. They did it all without any safety protection: They breathed in lead dust, got it in their mouths, carried it home on their clothes.


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