ANDREWS, Ind. — The old automotive factory in Andrews is now abandoned, but the bright blue building in the center of the town once employed many of the residents.
They now point to the irony that the building is currently used as a storage facility for burial bins. That's because residents and town officials allege a multi-billion-dollar corporation is behind the cancer causing contamination in their town’s drinking water.
In June, a public health emergency was declared in Andrews after record levels of the carcinogen vinyl chloride were found in the town’s drinking water. The maximum contaminate level (MCL) of vinyl chloride allowed in drinking water according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is .002 mg/L. The Town of Andrews said there was “more than 10 times” that amount of vinyl chloride in one of their wells and that the carcinogen was found in all three of the town wells.
Town officials said the multibillion-dollar corporation that allegedly polluted their drinking water needs to pay. So the town of Andrews is suing United Technologies/Raytheon/Stantec.
13News spoke to three residents who said they’re suing because of their diagnosis.
David Smith - prostate cancer
Every morning that David Smith walks out onto his porch, the building where he once worked is within eyesight.
“Disappointed, bummed out,” Smith said.
Smith has lived in Andrews for 15 years. He initially moved there to be closer to family. Like many longtime residents, he used to work at the old automotive factory.
“I’ve seen a lot of things. There was a lot of dumping that went out the back door,” Smith said. “Working at the factory, we all had suspicions what was going on, possibly pollution.”
Thirteen years ago, Smith said he drank a glass of tap water at his mother’s house and it just didn’t taste right.
“It was kind of bitter, like cough syrup,” Smith said.
For a time, Smith continued to shower and cook with the town’s water. Knowing what he had allegedly witnessed at the factory, he eventually decided to switch to drinking bottled water to protect himself.
Then came 2018, the year that changed his life.
“When I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, that was a shocker for me,” Smith said.
He went through 44 sessions of radiation therapy.
“You gotta fight to beat it (cancer),” Smith said. “Every day, it’s looking you right in the face.”
Smith said he has good health insurance but still owes thousands.
And cancer isn't the only battle Smith is fighting. He’s suing United Technologies/Raytheon/Stantec over his cancer diagnosis. His suit, as well as those filed by the two other residents 13News spoke with, isn’t just about his cancer. It’s about the town. The three residents want the multi-billion dollar corporation to clean up the ground and build new wells for the town of Andrews in an area outside of the alleged contamination zone.
“You gotta think about the people in this town that have children,” Smith said. “That what we’re fighting for.”
Smith said he believes cleaning up the contamination is Raytheon/United Technologies’ responsibility.
“I would like to see them do the right thing and not have to fight like this. But if it’s a fight they want, it’s a fight they’ll get,” Smith said.
Raytheon has been actively treating the town’s drinking water since 1994 as part of a voluntary remediation program. 13News reached out to Raytheon regarding the allegations of chemical dumping, and the allegations made by some residents that these chemicals caused their cancer.
Raytheon said no one was available for an on-camera interview and could not provide a statement due to ongoing litigation.
Stephen Cecil - kidney and prostate cancer
Stephen Cecil has lived in Andrews for 15 years. He never worked at the automotive factory and he doesn’t live next door. But his lawyer said vapor intrusion can travel through sewer lines.
“What we have in Andrews, is these sewer lines that crisscross and intersect and the chemicals have actually gotten in to the sewers. So, you have vapors moving many, many blocks,” said Thomas Barnard, a partner at Taft Stettinius & Hollister,
A 2020 study published in the journal Science and the Total Environment said the “role of sewer lines as preferential pathways for vapor intrusion is poorly understood. As a result, these pathways are often not considered when developing vapor intrusion investigation or mitigation plans…Although the number of recent studies have highlighted the importance of sewers as preferential pathways at individual buildings there is currently little technical or regulatory guidance on how to address it.”
Cecil said he never drank the water in Andrews because he’s always preferred bottled, but he would bath with it.
“I’ve had two cases of cancer since I moved up here. Kidney cancer and prostate cancer,” Cecil said.
He said he’s lucky to have caught both cancers early and is now in remission. But Cecil said he didn’t know about the alleged ongoing contamination issues in Andrews until a few years ago.
“I had no idea, probably wouldn’t have moved up here if I had known,” Cecil said.
He said he first learned about the alleged water issues in Andrew during a town meeting about the city’s lawsuit against United Technologies/Raytheon/Stantec.
He said residents and town officials weren’t just discussing drinking or using the water but also vapors coming up out of the ground.
Cecil said he’s not a toxicologist or an expert, so he can’t be certain if the alleged contamination caused his cancers, even though the Federal government’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry links kidney cancer, prostate cancer and several blood disorders to the carcinogens that have been found in the town’s water.
“Whether it caused mine (cancers) or not, it could cause other people the same problem,” Cecil said. “Don’t want that to happen."
Rick Saunders - blood disorder
Rick Saunders has lived in Andrews for about 22 years. Many residents are still using bottled water even through the state has declared the town’s water is now safe to use again. But Rick said he has no problem using the town’s tap water to bathe and cook.
“I figure that I’ve used the water all these years and what damage I have is already done, and stopping, to stop using the water isn’t really going to help me,” Saunders said.
Rick was diagnosed with a blood disorder after moving to Andrews. It’s called Myelodysplastic Syndrome. It causes frequent infections, easy bleeding and bruising, fatigue and shortness of breath.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get a physical job again,” Saunders said. “My body creates defective blood cells. I have to have a nurse come in every two weeks to draw blood and drop it off. If it’s below a certain number then I have to take a shot (of Aranesp) to bring it up.”
He’s suing Raytheon because of his diagnosis.
“I think it was the water and the chemicals that are in the water. That, and just breathing the vapors that was coming up from the ground all these years,” Saunders said.
Saunders said Raytheon installed a large system in his basement less than five years ago.
It has a pipe that leads to the outside of the house and appears to be a vapor intrusion mitigation system. It was installed before he knew about the alleged severity of the contamination issue in Andrews.
“I wasn’t real sure what was going on (when they installed it) but if there were vapors coming up through the ground, I was sure glad they were sealing my basement,” Saunders said.
But Saunders believes because of his diagnosis, the system was installed too late.
“These vapors have probably been coming up ever since I lived here,” Saunders said.
13News asked Raytheon how they determine when and why to install the systems. Raytheon said no one was available for an on-camera interview and that they could not provide a statement due to ongoing litigation.
Saunders said he can’t afford leaving the place he’s called home since the 1990s. But moving for him isn’t just about finances. As soon as you walk into Saunders home it’s clear he has a passion for Labradors. On his living room wall are photos of three, framed with the years of birth and death. Freddy and Ethel were his first two dogs in his house and then pup Billy Jack died of cancer just earlier this year.
“It was soft tissue sarcoma,” he said.
In February, Saunders noticed a large growth on his dog. By May, Billy Jack was gone.
“He had a tumor starting to grow and it grew very fast,” Saunders said.
He wondered if the water had anything to do with it, so he said he tried to give his dog bottled water and set up a little experiment.
He normally put water for Billy Jack in a large bucket. This time he also put out a dog bowl filled with bottled water.
“He sniffed the tap water in the bucket, and then the bottled water in the bowl, and drank the bottled water in the bowl,” Saunders said.
That was a month before Billy Jack passed away.
“It was too little to late,” Saunders said.
Burying Billy Jack alongside his canine mom, Ethel, and his canine dad, Freddy, in the side yard was both emotionally and physically draining said Saunders. Because of his diagnosis he had to dig a little and then stop and rest.
“It took me three days,” Saunders said.
He said leaving Andrews isn’t an option for him because it would mean leaving behind his three dogs.
“Hardest part would be leaving them there,” Saunders said. He’s including Billy Jack in his suit.
Fighting as a community
All three residents said they aren’t able to leave Andrews.
“Everyday living in this town is going to be a battle,” Smith said. “We need to stay together and fight.”
All three said they want to do whatever they can for future generations because they worry about the families who moved here not knowing about the alleged contamination issues. The families whose children are growing up in Andrews right now.
13News shared its stories about Andrews with Governor Holcomb's office and requested a comment on more than one occasion and did not receive any response other than being referred to IDEM. With regards to water in Andrews, Indiana IDEM said it "has never received information from the town that indicates the finished drinking water does not meet SDWA standards."
With regards to alleged vapor intrusion, IDEM said it "has overseen the identification and investigation of at-risk structures for vapor intrusion and, where levels were above IDEM’s residential screening levels, vapor mitigation systems were installed. Currently, IDEM is not aware of any additional at-risk structures.
In addition, IDEM received drinking water samples from the Andrews Water Department on July 23, 2020, that were tested for volatile organic compounds (VOCs). All sample results were below laboratory detection limits. Results are available in IDEM’s Virtual File Cabinet: Andrews Water Department Lab Report for 7/23/20 83018802 and Andrews Water Department Lab Report for 7/23/20 83018764."