3M, Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company
The Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company is better known to consumers as 3M, the maker of such products as the Post-It Note and Scotch tape. 3M is headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota and its history dates back to a founding in 1902 by five businessmen. The original name of the company describes what it set out to do: mine natural resources and manufacture products.
3M has a long history of success, but also of asbestos use and of exposure of workers to harmful asbestos. Long before the 1970s regulations placed on asbestos, 3M had used it in many of their products, resulting in a number of claims and lawsuits being filed against the company. Both workers at 3M and people who used the products sued the company over mesothelioma and other illnesses.
The Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company was founded in 1902 by Henry S. Bryan and William A. McGonagle, both railroad executives, John Dwan, an attorney, Dr. J. Danley Budd, a physician, and meat market proprietor Hermon W. Cable. In its early days, 3M sold sandpaper and grinding materials, using mined materials from northern Minnesota. Mining for the right materials proved difficult and the company shifted to importing minerals to make their grinding and sanding products.
By 1910 the company had settled in St. Paul, where it remains headquartered today. Some of the biggest successes for 3M were products designed or invented in house, especially adhesives and tapes. The company invented and made waterproof sandpaper, masking tape, cellophane tape, and other types of innovative tapes, made and marketed under the Scotch brand.
With the onset of World War II, 3M shifted priorities to making materials and products for the military. The company made such products as reflective sheeting, and filament adhesive tape. 3M expanded rapidly after the war and opened manufacturing plants around the country and internationally. In the 1980s the company produced its most famous product, invented by a 3M scientist. Post-it Notes used a new adhesive that was secure, but could be peeled back without leaving a residue behind.
Today, the number of products that 3M has invented and produced has reached into the thousands. Over 75,000 people work for the company and sales have reached over $20 billion worldwide. While there is no question that 3M has been successful for innovation and creating and producing a wide range of new products, the company has also been guilty of using asbestos in many of those products and of exposing workers and others.
3M Products with Asbestos
The use of asbestos in consumer products is now severely limited, although not banned outright. Before the regulations put in place in the 1970s by the federal government, though, 3M used asbestos in a number of products. Asbestos was used in many ways because it resists fire, heat, and electricity and is strong, but lightweight. 3M used asbestos in many of their adhesive products, including caulk, sticky tar caulking, wet adhesives,
3M and Asbestos Exposure
A variety of people were affected by 3M’s use of asbestos. Workers in their facilities who handled the asbestos to manufacture adhesives were likely exposed to harmful fibers. It wasn’t just the 3M employees who were exposed to asbestos, though. The products that 3M made were used by workers in many industries, including mechanics, engineers, factory workers, drywall sanders, boilermakers, shipyard workers and shipbuilders, construction workers, HVAC technicians, and automotive factory workers, just to name a few.
Over the years that 3M sold these products, the workers who made or handled them on a regular basis were most at risk for exposure. Others could have been exposed too, although the risk was less. Anyone who used the asbestos products or lived in homes with those products, especially if they deteriorated and exposed asbestos fibers, could have inhaled the fibers and been put at risk for illness as a result.
Although 3M made a variety of products that contained asbestos, the many lawsuits the company has faced were mostly related to its dust masks and respirators. These did not have asbestos in them, but they were used by workers as safety gear to protect against the inhalation of dangerous materials and dust, including asbestos fibers.
The problem was that 3M claimed the 8500 dust mask would protect workers against toxic dust. Workers filing lawsuits claim that they provided inadequate protection from asbestos fibers. In turn, 3M claimed that it never marketed them as suitable for use around asbestos. The 8710 disposable respirator was actually approved for use in worksites with asbestos by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. However, it was only approved for use when the asbestos levels were ten times the permissible exposure limit, or less.
Thousands of lawsuits have been filed against 3M over these masks and respirators, with workers claiming that the products did not give them adequate protection against asbestos. Many claimed that the dust masks were sold as protective gear for all toxic dust and others claimed the respirators were faulty. Ultimately, 3M resolved about 300,000 lawsuits for a total of around $300 million in settlements. Each year, though, there is a possibility that the company will face new lawsuits as people get diagnosed later in life for asbestos-related illnesses.
In spite of the number of lawsuits the company has faced, 3M continues to thrive and to make its popular products while inventing and developing new ones. The company has never created an asbestos trust fund, which is typically used when a company is expected to go bankrupt before it can pay out settlement amounts. If you believe that your asbestos illness, mesothelioma, lung cancer, or asbestosis, was caused by factors related to 3M, such as defective protective gear or products that contained asbestos, you may have a case to make for receiving a settlement. A mesothelioma lawyer can help you gather evidence and make a case that could win you the damages that would help you pay your medical expenses and other costs.
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