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Abex Corporation

The Abex Corporation went through many changes over the years since it was founded in 1928 as the American Brake Shoe and Foundry. Over the years the company made brakes, wheels, hydraulic systems, and fluids for aerospace and industrial applications, among many other products. Nearly everything the company made contained asbestos.

Ultimately the original Abex facility in Portsmouth, Virginia was shut down and declared an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund site. The company merged with Pneumo Corporation and the resulting company would eventually reorganize under Chapter 11 bankruptcy and start an asbestos trust fund to help compensate the many victims of asbestos exposure and mesothelioma and other related illnesses.

Company History

The origins of Abex go back to the 1928 founding of the American Brake Shoe and Foundry in Portsmouth, Virginia. It worked metal and created wheels and brakes for train cars. Ultimately the company expanded to produce other industrial products like hydraulic systems, brake linings, and other parts for automobiles, trains, and airplanes that involved friction.

In 1968 the Abex Corporation was bought by Illinois Central Industries, Inc. This company was a railroad company that managed and operated both passenger and freight trains. By 1978 the company was bought by Pneumo Corporation, a company in the aerospace, drug, and food industries based in Boston, Massachusetts. The merging of Abex and Pneumo founded the company called Pneumo Abex Corporation. This newly merged company focused on aerospace and industrial products. The merger also led to the shutdown of the original Abex facility in Portsmouth.

Pneumo Abex would eventually face bankruptcy reorganization in the early 2000s, largely driven by the huge number of lawsuits over asbestos exposure caused by Abex products over the years. Today the company is called Pneumo Abex LLC. It is based in Camden, New Jersey and is a subsidiary of PCT International Holdings, Inc.

Products with Asbestos

From its very beginnings as a foundry and brake shoe manufacturer, Abex was a company that was bound to use a lot of asbestos. Asbestos is a natural mineral that has the ability to insulate against heat and prevent the spread of fire. Any industry that involves high temperatures, such as a metal foundry, was likely to have used asbestos in its facilities. Manufacturers of products that needed to withstand heat also used asbestos in the making of those products. Abex falls into both categories.

Abex mostly made products that had to be able to withstand great friction forces. Friction produces a lot of heat, which can destroy materials or even cause fires. Asbestos in these kinds of products helps to make them more durable and prevents the spread of fire. Some of Abex’s asbestos-containing products included brakes and brake shoes, hydraulic systems, aircraft control systems, fluid power products and parts, and components for railroad cars.

Exposure Caused by Abex

The facility in Portsmouth, Virginia that Abex used to manufacture all of its asbestos-containing products operated from 1928 to 1978. For most of those years, asbestos was used in the components of the facility itself, including insulation and in boilers and furnaces, and in the products that workers made there. Those most affected by Abex’s use of asbestos were the people who worked at this facility. Workers that handled and worked around asbestos were susceptible to breathing in the fibers that could then lodge in tissues and cause the damage that would ultimately cause mesothelioma, lung cancer, or asbestosis in many of them. These workers may even have carried asbestos fibers home on their clothing, exposing family members.

Anyone who used or worked around Abex products in other industries were also put at risk for asbestos exposure. This includes railroad workers who made, maintained, repaired, and operated railroad cars and trains. It also includes automobile and aerospace employees who used the hydraulic and power fluid systems, and brake components that Abex made with asbestos.

The Abex Superfund Site

The original foundry that Abex operated in Portsmouth, Virginia, was in use from 1928 to 1978. The site was then abandoned and when evaluated by the EPA was found to have serious contamination from many toxins, including asbestos. The EPA also found that nearby areas had soil contamination, including housing complexes, homes, and a playground. The site was listed as a top priority Superfund in 1990. The EPA has controlled the contamination enough to protect nearby residents, but the cleanup is still not completed.

Asbestos Litigation

Beginning in the 1990s Abex faced a number of asbestos lawsuits brought by victims of exposure who believed the company was liable for their exposure and resulting illnesses. Thousands of these lawsuits eventually led to the company’s need to reorganize under Chapter 11 bankruptcy and to form an asbestos trust fund as part of that reorganization.

One very important lawsuit that was brought against Abex and several other companies found in favor of the plaintiff, a pipefitter who worked for Abex in the 1970s. The man accused Abex and others of being liable for his mesothelioma. The jury found in his favor and found that the defendant companies were guilty of conspiring to conceal the harms and risks of asbestos. Abex had to contribute to compensatory damages and was also ordered to pay $20 million in punitive damages.

Abex’s Asbestos Trust Fund

In 2006, a trust fund was set up to pay claimants, numbering over 38,000, requesting damages for asbestos exposure and resulting illness. The fund was set up through Cooper Industries and Federal Mogul, companies that had owned Abex in the 1990s. Cooper contributed $256 million to the fund to cover the costs associated with claims related to Abex products. The trust fund was a required part of the reorganization of Pneumo-Abex, which would continue to make products after the bankruptcy.

If you worked for Abex or if you worked in an industry that used Abex products and you were diagnosed with an asbestos-related condition, you may be entitled to compensatory damages. The trust fund was set up to help people like you and to ensure there would be adequate funds to cover all future claims. You have to submit a claim to the fund administrators and prove certain things, like your exposure and that it was related to your diagnosis. A mesothelioma lawyer can help you go through this process to make a successful claim.

Page edited by Dave Foster

Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.

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