Last modified: June 24, 2021
For decades prior to the 1980s, manufacturers throughout the state put workers and their families at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer.
Maintenance workers who repaired machinery in manufacturing plants were most at risk for experiencing asbestos exposure. Any disturbance to asbestos-containing materials could have resulted in airborne asbestos fibers. Once airborne, anyone working nearby could have unknowingly inhaled asbestos.
Occupations at Risk
Indiana businesses used asbestos-containing products in industries that produced steel, automobiles, electrical equipment, chemical products, rubber, petroleum and coal. The risk for asbestos exposure was the highest for steel mill workers because asbestos was used in a variety of applications in the mills for its ability to withstand high temperatures.
The county with the highest incidence rate for asbestos-related diseases in Indiana is Lake County, where you can find the city of Gary, best known for its steel mills.
Jobsites with Known Asbestos Exposure:
- Rolls Royce
- Dow AgroSciences
- Chemetron Corporation
- Raybestos Friction Materials Company
- General Motors
- Peerless Pump
- Nuturn Corporation
- George Rogers Clark National Park
- Warrick Generating Station in Yankeetown
- Federal Office Building in Evansville
- General Services Administration depot in Fort Wayne
Asbestos in Schools
In September 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s internal watchdog released a report about the agency failing to inspect schools for asbestos. The EPA is responsible for inspecting schools in most states, but some states do their own inspecting.
The EPA only conducted 13 percent of all asbestos compliance inspections from 2011 to 2015. The states that do their own inspecting conducted 87 percent. This means the states relying on the EPA are not getting as many compliance inspections. EPA’s Region 5, which includes Indiana, performed even fewer inspections than other regions.
The report also found that half of EPA regions only conducted inspections after receiving a complaint or tip.
Famous Person Who Battled Mesothelioma
One of Indiana’s famous native sons, actor Steve McQueen, developed cancer as a result of exposure to asbestos. A veteran who served in the Marines before his acting career took off, McQueen cleaned asbestos insulation from pipes aboard a troop ship, where he was exposed to massive amounts of the toxic mineral.
He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 1979 and died in 1980 of a heart attack following surgery to have a malignant tumor removed from his neck at a clinic in Mexico. McQueen’s on-screen legacy is that of a man’s man. He starred in films such as “Bullitt,” “The Thomas Crown Affair,” “The Great Escape” and “Papillion.”
Eli Lilly and Company, which is headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana, employs more than 11,500 people statewide. The company is responsible for developing the chemotherapy drug Alimta (pemetrexed), which was introduced in 2004 for the treatment of malignant pleural mesothelioma. When combined with Cisplatin, Alimta has shown to boost the life expectancy of many pleural mesothelioma patients.
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Asbestos Litigation in Indiana
In 2003, U.S. Steel Corporation lost a mesothelioma case filed by Roby Whittington, a 70-year-old retired worker from the company’s Gary Works plant in Gary, Indiana. Whittington worked for more than 30 years at the plant, where he was exposed to asbestos insulation materials.
A Madison County, Illinois, jury awarded Whittington $250 million, including $50 million in compensatory damages and $200 million in punitive payments. At the time, this was the largest asbestos-related verdict for a single plaintiff in U.S. history. Although U.S. Steel was expected to appeal the verdict, the company instead settled with Whittington out of court for an undisclosed amount.
In 1984, a concerned union member of a Nuturn Corporation brake manufacturing plant in New Castle, Indiana, requested OSHA to evaluate the level of asbestos exposure and the potential risks to employees. The survey detected asbestos concentrations that far exceeded the allowable amount, concluding that a health hazard for asbestos exposure was present at the Nuturn plant.
Future pulmonary function tests and chest X-rays of 170 plant workers revealed several complications from the asbestos exposure. Many workers had abnormal pulmonary function test results, demonstrating obstructive and restrictive breathing patterns. Five workers showed X-ray abnormalities and one showed signs of asbestosis, a fatal lung disease caused by inhaling asbestos fibers.
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