Indiana residents primarily faced asbestos exposure in occupational settings because there are no natural asbestos deposits.
Asbestos exposure puts workers and their family members at risk of developing mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer.
Maintenance workers who repaired machinery were most at risk of 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.
Indiana’s Occupations at Risk
Indiana businesses used asbestos-containing products in industrial settings. Makers of steel, automobiles, electrical equipment, chemical products, rubber, petroleum and coal used asbestos.
The risk for exposure was the highest for steel mill workers. They used asbestos 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. It is home to the city of Gary, best known for its steel mills.
Job Sites 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 natives, actor Steve McQueen, developed cancer as a result of exposure to asbestos. He was a veteran who served in the Marines before his acting career took off. McQueen cleaned asbestos insulation from pipes aboard a troop ship.
Doctors diagnosed him with mesothelioma in 1979. He 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, headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana, employs thousands of people statewide. The company developed the chemotherapy drug Alimta (pemetrexed). In 2004, it became a treatment for pleural mesothelioma. When combined with cisplatin, it boosts survival.
In 1984, a concerned union member of a Nuturn Corporation brake manufacturing plant in New Castle, Indiana, contacted OSHA. They asked about the level of asbestos exposure and the potential risks to employees. OSHA did a survey and detected asbestos concentrations that far exceeded the allowable amount.
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.
They showed 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.