Families Sue Milton over Radon in Drinking Water

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(Host) Two families in Milton have discovered that their drinking water is contaminated with radon and other dangerous elements. They recently sued their town and the local real estate agents who sold them the property. The families claim that town officials and the real estate agents should have known that the water was dangerous.

VPR’s John Dillon has more.

(Dillon) Geologists and mining companies have apparently known for years that the bedrock in parts of Vermont contains uranium and other radioactive minerals.

The question posed by a lawsuit now in federal court is whether the town of Milton and local real estate agents knew ¿ or should have known ¿ that these rock formations can make the ground water dangerously radioactive.

Ron Shems is a lawyer for two Milton families who recently filed the suit against the town and local developers.

(Shems) "The town and the zoning officer has known that there’s uranium and radiation in the drinking water and they haven’t taken any steps to address that problem. The result is that my clients now have up to 100 times the safe level of radiation, of uranium, radium and radon in their drinking water. And they can’t even brush their teeth with that water, according to the Health Department."

(Dillon) Shems says that it’s been common knowledge for years that parts of Milton lie on top of radioactive bedrock. He says from the 1950s to the 1970s, mining companies filed claims on large tracts of property:

(Shems) "The reason they bought these mineral rights was to be able to mine uranium as part of the cold war effort. These were large companies. The mining rights were recorded on the town land records. And it was fairly well known from the people who sold the mining rights and the people who recorded the mining rights and from people who bought and sold property that these mining rights were out there."

(Dillon) The town of Milton, through its lawyer, has filed a motion to dismiss the case. The town argues that its officials were not negligent in granting zoning permits for the property. The real estate companies also say they were not to blame. Roger Kohn is the lawyer for one of the real estate companies:

(Kohn) "Well, I think that’s ridiculous. I mean we did not know about it. And there’s no way we should have known about it. This was something that nobody in the area knew about and it was discovered later."

(Dillon) But Shems says that the radiation problem was known about for years. The property was sold for house lots. And Shems says a fundamental guarantee of the sale is that safe drinking water would be available.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Burlington.

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