Indiana State Department Being Taken to Court Over Asbestos Exposure Emails

Illustration of legal cases for asbestos and mesothelioma

The Indiana State Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) is being taken to court by Indiana homeowners over emails about asbestos exposure in their neighborhood.

Evidence shows 7,000 pounds of asbestos-containing debris in piles were blowing into the wind, causing the asbestos to become airborne. This exposed the entire neighborhood, including high school students, to the dangerous substance.

Asbestos exposure is very serious as it can lead to mesothelioma cancer and other asbestos-related diseases. Yet, the 20-year IDEM inspector supposedly did not find any of the 7,000 pounds of asbestos.

A convicted reoffender named Richard Swift was the person who was ordered to demolish the buildings without first having the asbestos removed. He spent 18 years in prison before that.

Twenty-eight emails from IDEM had to be turned over to federal courts in the case, however, words and names were blacked out.

The lawsuit stated, “The redacted and withheld information may explain how and why IDEM incorrectly determined that no asbestos existed at the site.”

One attorney noted, “The State of Indiana seems to be retreating almost running away from this notion of transparency” because IDEM will not hand over the non-blacked out emails as it has “deliberative-process privilege.”

That same attorney wonders, “What are they doing behind the scenes? Citizens should have the right to kind of pull the curtain away and see what’s going on behind it, when we as taxpayers are the ones paying their salaries. There does seem to be a disturbing trend here in Indiana toward secrecy in government, away from transparency.”

Apparently Governor Mike Pence and his staff often do not provide un-redacted emails upon request. The homeowners living near the old Johnson Controls site with the asbestos debris piles are asking a federal judge to demand IDEM reveals the truth.

Although mesothelioma cancer was identified as a unique form of asbestos-related cancer since 1960, it was not until 1980 that the disease was brought to public attention. That same year, the late actor Steve McQueen—an Indiana native—was diagnosed with the disease and died less than a year later.

McQueen was a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and spent a substantial amount of time on naval transports. Before that, he was employed as a merchant seaman. Later in life, he played motor sports that meant wearing asbestos suits.

Regarding the neighbors’ complaints in Goshen, Indiana, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has spent $1.8 million since the asbestos discovery to properly abate the debris.