ANDREWS, Ind. (WANE) – United Technologies Automotive was in the town of Andrews in Huntington County for 18 years.
During that time, the town claims a local factory dumped chemicals that wound up in their groundwater. Thirty years later, the chemicals still taint the water below Andrews. It’s something that even Raytheon admits, as their response to Andrews, “Raytheon also admits that there are two plumes of contamination in the groundwater in the Townof Andrews, Indiana.”
And those chemicals have been the focal point of a number of lawsuits.
There are at least three separate court cases that include over 150 plaintiffs all alleging “independent personal injury, property damage and/or nuisance claims against Raytheon and the other defendants,” according to a document provided by the Raytheon defendants.
The three main cases (referred to as the Asher, Zidar, and Coffield cases) were all filed in 2020 and 2021.
Since then, lawyers have filed motions and subpoenas; they’ve filed appearances during hearings where little happened in the courtroom itself and they’ve asked for more time to gather evidence. To some involved, the wheels of justice are slow to turn. A status conference in one of the lawsuits scheduled for Wednesday was postponed.
The depositions and documents presented in court documents filed so far in these lawsuits, though, help paint a clearer picture of how the ground Andrews residents walk upon became tainted.
The factory that started the chemical dumping, according to court documents, was run by United Technologies Automotive (UTA).
UTA used chemicals to degrease the car parts they produced.
Raytheon gets caught up in liability because UTA – which no longer exists – is a former Raytheon subsidiary. The relationship between Raytheon and UTA can be further seen in the court documents.
Raytheon now finds itself responsible for the environmental liabilities of the old plant.
Former UTA employee Samuel Avalos testified that he dumped barrels of Trichloroethylene (TCE) while working in Andrews.
A motion that Andrews filed against Raytheon and other companies stated:
“He was required to clean out the used TCE from the factory’s vapor degreaser at least once a week. When Avalos cleaned out the degreaser, he collected ‘at least a couple of barrels’ of used TCE. Avalos testified that for a one-to-two year period, upon instructions from the UTA Facility’s engineering manager, he would wheel the barrels of used TCE to the edge of a loading dock, and ‘we’d dump them on the ground’ into the grassy area behind the factory.”
“We’d dump them on the ground into the grassy area behind the factory.”
Samuel Avalos, Andrews Emergency Motion
TCE breaks down into dichloroethylene isomers and vinyl chloride which, according to the CDC, can cause “permanent liver injury and liver cancer, neurologic or behavioral symptoms, and changes to the skin and bones of the hand.”
Because of those adverse effects, the EPA says that any more than two parts per billion of Vinyl Chloride makes water unsafe to use.
According to a test taken by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management in 2014, there was as much as 532 ppb in the groundwater.
In other words, 266 times the limit you can safely drink.
The only defense the town has against these chemicals is a piece of equipment Raytheon supplies: the air stripper.
According to the EPA, “Air stripping is the process of moving air through contaminated water in an aboveground treatment system to remove chemicals.”
When the air stripper is operational it keeps vinyl chloride out of the drinking water.
But, when it’s not functioning, Andrews is at the mercy of whatever is in the ground below them.
That was the case in 2020 when residents were instructed not to use their water.
Due to smell and taste complaints, Andrews had previously shut off the first of their three wells that provide public drinking water to the town. However, when wells two and three were no longer producing enough to cover the city’s water needs, they turned pump one back on.
That’s when Andrews became the site of a crisis.
Andrews Water Timeline
- UTA (a former subsidiary of Raytheon) operated the site and dumped chemicals.
- Preferred Technical Group (PTG) bought the factory owned by United Technologies Automotive.
- Raytheon entered IDEM’s Voluntary Remediation Program (VRP) and constructed the air stripper.
- Andrews shut down Well one in response to taste and odor complaints.
- Andrews learns that its emergency motion has been denied.
- A status conference is scheduled for July 27th ahead of the actual trial
- One day before the status conference, the Raytheon Defendants propose a bellwether discovery and trial, consolidating the number of plaintiffs.
- The plaintiffs responded by asking for a continuation, pushing back the status conference to August 25th
“Beginning on approximately June 4, and continuing for several days, the air stripper malfunctioned.”
Town of Andrews notice, June 19th 2020
According to the same notice, this unleashed dangerous chemicals into the drinking water of unsuspecting Andrew’s citizens.
“At the time the air stripper went down, the most recent sampling data indicated that Well 1 contained vinyl chloride at 19.4 ug/L, almost 10 times higher than EPA and Indiana drinking water standard”
Town of Andrews notice, June 19th 2020
The calamity spawned the court battle that is just now seeing any movement.
The town filed an emergency junction to get Raytheon to pay for new wells, but after the junction was denied, the build-up to a full trial began.
Raytheon claims that the town is at fault for a number of reasons.
In court John Baron, a remediation project manager with Raytheon said the town never notified him that they turned well number one on.
And Andrews? Their town president John Harshbarger says he doesn’t trust IDEM or Raytheon.
“IDEM and Raytheon clearly do not care about the health and safety of our community,” Harshbarger said in a letter written July 7th, 2020 to John Baron, Raytheon’s remediation project manager.
Ahead of the actual trial, a status conference was scheduled to be held in Adams County Court on July 27th.
However on July 26th, a day before the status conference on the case, Raytheon submitted a motion and memorandum to change how the case is processed.
In short, the defense is trying to condense the number of plaintiffs. You can read the document in full here.
In response, the plaintiffs requested a continuation that would push back the status conference until August 25.
Their main objection to the new information provided is the manner in which it was introduced.
“One day before the scheduled status conference, and without prior warning to Plaintiffs or their counsel, the Raytheon Defendants filed a 36 page motion to set a causation-based case management order.”
Plaintiffs’ Motion To Continue, July 27th 2020
The motion to continue would go on to say that the plaintiff’s counsel “are just seeing this complicated proposal for the first time and will not be able to fully and adequately respond to it by tomorrow morning at 10 a.m.”
The defense got their way, and we won’t see any legal action until August 25th.
With all of these legal maneuvers and no trial date in sight, it leaves many who are affected wondering if they’ll see anything come from it.
That’s the case for Raymond and Pamela Tackett who both have long-term health effects that they attribute to the TCE in the water.
Raymond says that he has stage three kidney malfunction that is getting close to stage four.
“If I had still been drinking this water I’d be down here at the cemetery like a lot of my friends that I know that worked there and lived here in town,” Raymond said.
The Tacketts’ distrust of the water is so great that they won’t even give it to their pets.
“It’s pretty bad when you won’t let your dog drink… I won’t give it to my dogs,” Pamela said.
Pamela also has a number of medical issues that she attributes to the water. When asked what medical conditions she has, she joked “all of them.”
“All of them,” includes diverticulitis, heart disease, joint weakness and breast cancer.
She’s hopeful that she’ll see the water fixed for the community she has lived in all of her life. A community that she estimates now uses tap water for nothing but bathing.
The very last piece of this puzzle that has yet to be solved is grant money.
Harshbarger says that the town has repeatedly applied for money from the state as a part of a number of state-run programs.
In particular, Harshbarger says the town has been passed by for the State Revolving Fund. A fund that Indiana awards to communities like Andrews.
“The State Revolving Fund (SRF) Loan Programs provide low-interest loans to Indiana communities for projects that improve wastewater and drinking water infrastructure. The Program’s mission is to provide eligible entities with the lowest interest rates possible on the financing of such projects while protecting public health and the environment.”
“About SRF” from State Revolving Fund Loan Programs
After not getting any help for his town, Harshbarger has grown frustrated and wary that IDEM cares about Andrews’ situation at all. He says that he just wants new wells and clean water for his town.
“You know we’re supposed to be up there at the top of the list with IDEM, but yet we keep getting passed over. So I guess my question to the state is, ‘Why the hell don’t they give a damn?”