IDEM: Jefferson Proving Ground owner violated law after improper disposal of asbestos


by Adam Walser

Posted on February 28, 2011 at 7:33 PM

Updated Tuesday, Mar 1 at 12:38 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -  People use it every day as a place of business, and it has a state office and a restaurant.

However, WHAS11 News has learned that a southern Indiana business park is called one of state's most contaminated asbestos sites.

It is a story the base's new owner and the people who live and work there are reluctant to talk about, but hundreds of people have potentially been exposed.

For 55 years, Jefferson Proving Ground helped prepare America for war.

At its peak, 1,800 people worked inside the 78 sq. miles munitions testing facility, but when the Cold War ended, the base was no longer needed and J.P.G. closed.

Most of the land is fenced off, too contaminated for any future use.

Part of it became the Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge, and another part was converted into a National Guard training facility.  The rest of the land went up for sale.

Nearly 16-years-ago, businessman Dean Ford bought the remaining 3,400 acres for $5.1 Million, hoping to develop it.

Ford became the first private citizen ever to purchase a military base under the base realignment and closure, or BRAC, program.

Many of the buildings on the site now sit vacant, and miles of the property look like a ghost town.

However, Ford has managed to get several companies to move in.

Additionally, families seeking cheap housing have bunked in the old barracks, most unaware of the potential danger surrounding them.

When asked about the asbestos, people WHAS11 spoke with at the entrance either did not know about it or refused to comment.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management, or IDEM, puts the plot of land at the top of its list of most contaminated areas in the state when it comes to asbestos.

Inspectors in late November found 10,000 feet of crushed, crumbling insulation by the side of the road.

Test results show the material is 40 percent chrysotile asbestos, one of the most dangerous forms.

Shoe prints hint that it was likely tracked into the homes, commercial buildings and a restaurant on base, where microscopic particles could be inhaled.

State officials say none of the workers who removed the insulation or were exposed to the dangerous material wore the proper protective gear, as is mandated by state and federal laws.

Dr. David Tollerud is theProfessor and Chair of the Department Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at the University of Louisville School of Public Health and Information Sciences.

“In general, the rules say zero,” Tollerud replied, when asked about how much a safe amount of exposure to asbestos is.

IDEM sent a letter to Ford saying his actions created "a threat to human health and the environment."

The letter says asbestos was removed without a licensed contractor or trained workers, asbestos was not put in proper containers and a required permit was never sought.

Ford would not agree to an on camera interview, but he told us, “The Army Corps of Engineers is who you need to call.”

Ford says the Army told him the material on the pipes was plaster, but documents WHAS11 obtained from the U.S. Army show that is not true.

In fact, the documents say Ford received information which "clearly states that the facilities contain asbestos."

When WHAS11 searched the Official Army Jefferson Proving Ground website, we discovered the Army itself had prepared 87 different documents related to asbestos on the site, including one released in 1993 that specifically refers to 17,900 linear feet of asbestos pipe insulation.

IDEM, the Indiana Department of Health, the Indiana Department of Labor and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are still investigating.

“It's gonna work itself out. It's getting cleaned up,” said Ford.

Dr. Tollerud says the damage may have already been done.

When asbestos gets into the lungs, it stays there forever.

“Specialized white blood cells that generally attack bacteria and other things will try to attack it and they can't do anything to it,” said Tollerud. “It just causes inflammation so it sits there in a sense and festers and each little fiber will do that.”
That often leads to diseases like Mesothelioma and lung cancer.

Among those potentially exposed are school children who play a few feet from danger signs or more than 140 runners who competed in the King's Daughter's Hospital's "Run For Your Life" 10K event on the base.

It was held less than a month before authorities discovered the asbestos.

A spokesperson says the hospital was never informed about the hazard, but participants were required to sign a waiver agreeing not to hold JPG’s owner liable for "any health issues."

Now, IDEM has forced Ford to hire a licensed firm to clean up the mess.

“It's always more difficult and more expensive to clean up that it is to do it right the first time,” said Tollerud.

IDEM says Ford will face enforcement action when the investigations are completed.

Those could include everything from fines to possible criminal prosecution.

Anyone concerned about exposure to the asbestos at JPG is encouraged to contact IDEM at (317) 233-6880.

Click here to read the U.S. Army’s response to the asbestos issue at Jefferson Proving Ground.

Click here to read the Indiana Department Environmental Management’s letter to Ford.