Indianapolis News and HeadlinesWRTV Investigates


Westfield father complains of 'burnt plastic' smell near son's school

In December 2022, the Westfield Fire Chief sent the state an email after receiving complaints about a “plastic smell” coming from the DuraMark facility.
A Westfield father, Mark Brown, is raising concerns about a bad smell near his son’s school.
Posted at 5:59 PM, Jun 15, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-15 18:14:28-04

WESTFIELD — A Westfield father says an awful smell near his son's school has him concerned.

DuraMark Technologies is a Westfield company that makes labels and decals. They’ve been operating at their Southpark Drive location for seven years.

Next door to DuraMark is the Bierman Autism Center, which offers therapy and other services for children with autism.

Mark Brown’s son Aidan, 3, attends Bierman Autism Center.

“He always wants to be outside,” said Brown. “That’s his thing.”

But his parents don’t want Aidan outside because of an odor they say is coming from DuraMark.

"It's kind of like a burnt rubber kind of smell,” said Brown. “It's pretty gross."

 Aidan’s grandfather, Paul Katz, has noticed the smell as well.

 “It smells like burning rubber or burning plastic,” said Katz. “Almost like a burnt chemical smell."

 Brown said Aidan has been attending the center since the fall, but his family says they started noticing the smell back in February 2023.

"I don't know if it's warmer, but it seems worse now,” said Brown. “Whatever it is, it can't be good."

The family complained to the Bierman Autism Center, DuraMark, and filed a complaint with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

Records show they’re not alone.

In December 2022, the Westfield Fire Chief sent IDEM an email after receiving complaints about a “plastic smell” coming from the DuraMark facility.

IDEM inspected DuraMark in December 2022, with the inspector noting a “burning plastic odor” and said the “fume exhaust from the laser-cutting operation may be malfunctioning.”

The state did not issue any violations at the time.

WRTV Investigates Kara Kenney found the state’s Department of Environmental Management is limited in the action it can take when it comes to odors.

Aidan’s mother and the Bierman Autism Center both complained to IDEM in May 2023, prompting IDEM to go back to DuraMark on May 2.

The IDEM inspector noted a “strong odor a strong odor was detected coming from the fume exhaust on the west side of DuraMark’s operation,” but again, the state did not issue any violations.

IDEM does not regulate odors, however, they can ensure companies are following air pollution rules.

IDEM says Duramark does not need an air permit, because their emissions fall below the amount required for a permit.

That means Duramark is not required to control the fumes generated from their equipment.

Still, IDEM recommended they take steps to address the problem.

DuraMark declined an on-camera interview with WRTV.

In an email to WRTV, Maintenance and Facility Manager Chris Stahl, said the equipment manufacturer came out to inspect the equipment, including the exhaust system.

“That inspection occurred in late March/early April 2023 and resulted in the manufacturer disassembling and thoroughly cleaning the laser cutting machine exhaust equipment,” Stahl said in an email to WRTV. “Further, DuraMark has retained the manufacturer to perform ongoing inspections and maintenance of the equipment on an annual basis. To be even more proactive, we are also planning to install a double filtration system on the equipment, including advanced carbon filtration of the exhaust.”

Stahl said they are moving forward with scheduling installation and anticipate the filtration system should be in place by the end of June.

“We take being a good neighbor and responsible corporate citizen seriously,” said Stahl in an email to WRTV.

When WRTV Investigates stopped by on June 5, we could smell a slight odor—like something was burning.

IDEM points out that just because your nose picks up on a smell, does not mean the air is dangerous.

“Many chemicals used today have the potential to be smelled by humans. The human nose has an amazing ability to detect odors that, in many cases, still cannot be matched by scientific equipment. Because the nose is so good at its job, it is important to realize that just because an odor is present does not mean that a danger exists,” read an IDEM fact sheet. “On the other hand, just because you cannot smell a pollutant does not mean that it is not present, or that it does not pose a risk.”

Aidan’s father and grandfather hope the new filtration system at DuraMark will fix the problem and Aidan can enjoy the outdoors while he’s at school.

"I'm an optimist and hopefully this thing does resolve it,” said Paul Katz.

Bierman Autism Center and IDEM both declined to speak on camera as well

Last year, IDEM fielded 3452 total complaints & 497 information requests.

You can file a complaint with IDEM by:

  1. Submitting a complaint online
  2. Call the Complaint Coordinator at (800) 451-6027 Option 3
  3. Mailing a completed Complaint Submission Form (available on the IDEM Agency Forms page)

“Upon receiving a complaint, IDEM’s complaint coordinator determines if the matter is within IDEM’s authority,” said Barry Sneed, IDEM spokesperson, in an email to WRTV. “Upon making a determination, the complaint is sent to the appropriate IDEM program area for follow-up. Complaints within the agency’s authority (i.e., a facility operating without an appropriate permit or in violation of a permit) may lead to a site inspection.”
It’s not clear how many of the 3,452 complaints resulted in a violation or inspection, because that is not data IDEM maintains.

A spokesperson for IDEM points out overall records on notices of violation and agreed orders are publicly available via IDEM’s enforcement database: []

“A notice of violation (NOV) is a formal enforcement action informing a respondent that IDEM believes violations of environmental statutes and rules have occurred, initiating the formal enforcement process,” and IDEM spokesperson said in an email to WRTV. “Typically, an NOV leads to the assessment of civil penalties and the requirement for IDEM and the respondent to sign an agreed order.”