Abex Corporation used asbestos to manufacture brakes, wheels, hydraulic systems, and fluids for aerospace and industrial applications, many with asbestos. Ultimately the government declared the original Abex facility in Virginia a Superfund site. Following this came bankruptcy reorganization and an asbestos trust fund to compensate Abex victims of asbestos exposure and mesothelioma.
History of Abex Corporation and Asbestos Use
Abex had its foundation as the American Brake Shoe and Foundry in Portsmouth, Virginia. Founded in 1902, the company worked metal and produced wheels and brakes for train cars.
The company eventually expanded to produce other industrial products, including hydraulic systems, brake linings, and other parts for automobiles, trains, and airplanes that involved friction.
- In 1968 Illinois Central Industries, Inc., a railroad company that managed and operated both passenger and freight trains, bought the Abex Corporation. By 1978, the company was bought again by Pneumo Corporation, a company in the aerospace, drug, and food industries based in Boston, Massachusetts.
- The merging of Abex and Pneumo marked the beginning of the company called Pneumo Abex Corporation. The newly merged company focused on aerospace and industrial products; however, the merger led to the closing of the original Abex facility located in Portsmouth.
- Pneumo Abex eventually filed for bankruptcy and reorganization in the early 2000s because of the large number of lawsuits over asbestos exposure. Today the New Jersey-based company is called Pneumo Abex LLC and is a subsidiary of PCT International Holdings, Inc.
How Did Abex Use Asbestos?
From the beginning, Abex used asbestos in the manufacturing of its products. Asbestos is a natural mineral with the ability to resist fire and insulate against extreme heat.
Any industry that experiences extreme temperatures during the manufacturing process, such as a metal foundry, used in its facilities for much of the 20th century.
Abex continued to use asbestos in many of its products for decades. This put Abex employees at risk, but it also harmed workers in other companies that used their products.
Which Abex Products Contained Asbestos?
Abex specialized in products that could withstand high friction forces. Friction produces heat, which can spark a fire and melt material. Asbestos helps make these products more durable while preventing the spread of fire.
Some of Abex’s asbestos-containing products included:
- Brake shoes
- Hydraulic systems
- Aircraft control systems
- Fluid power products and parts
- Railroad car components
Who Was Exposed to Asbestos Because of Abex?
The Abex facility in Portsmouth, Virginia, operated from 1928 to 1978. During this time, the company used asbestos in the components of the facility itself, including insulation in boilers and furnaces, and in the products made there.
Facility workers were most affected by Abex’s use of asbestos. Employees who handled asbestos could potentially inhale asbestos fibers.
Those fibers could then settle in tissues, causing damage that would ultimately cause mesothelioma, lung cancer, or asbestosis. Employees could also carry asbestos fibers home on their clothing, potentially exposing their family members and putting them at risk as well.
Anyone who used or worked around Abex products in other industries also risked asbestos exposure. This included:
- Railroad workers who made, maintained, repaired, and operated railroad cars and trains
- Automotive employees who worked with brake components
- Aerospace employees who used hydraulic and power fluid systems
The Abex Superfund Site
The original Abex foundry in Portsmouth, Virginia, operated from 1928 to 1978. The company abandoned the site in 1978 when the Environmental Protection Agency discovered serious contamination from dangerous toxins, including asbestos.
The EPA also found soil in the area was contaminated. Nearby neighborhoods, homes, and playgrounds were also affected.
The Portsmouth site was listed as a top-priority Superfund site in 1990. The EPA has effectively controlled the contamination to protect area residents and has completed several projects:
- The EPA completed a Preliminary Assessment of the site in 1983.
- In 1986, the agency removed contaminated soil from several residential areas. It also paved and fenced in the area where the foundry operated.
- A study completed in 1992 found lead in surface soil that had to be removed.
- In 1997, Abex demolished foundry buildings and row houses. This required the relocation of several residents. The company removed soil within 700 feet of the area.
- In 1999 and 2000, the EPA removed lead from furnaces and ducts in area apartments.
- The EPA opened a new cleanup study and area in 2001.
- In 2007, Abex completely restored and remediated the original treatment area, preparing it for redevelopment by the Portsmouth Redevelopment and Housing Authority. It was determined to be complete in 2009.
Abex Asbestos Lawsuits
Beginning in the 1990s, Abex faced several asbestos lawsuits. These lawsuits were initiated by exposure victims who believed the company was liable for their exposure and the resulting illnesses.
Thousands of lawsuits eventually caused the company to reorganize under Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Abex was also required to form an asbestos trust fund as part of its reorganization.
These lawsuits included several important wins for victims of Abex asbestos:
- A pipefitter employed by Abex in the 1970s accused the company of liability for his mesothelioma. The jury found in his favor and awarded him $89.6 million. The defendant companies faced charges of conspiring to conceal the harms and risks of asbestos.
- Gordon Bankhead worked as a mechanic on vehicles that contained Pneumo-Abex asbestos brake pads. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma and sued the company in 2010. He won a $4 million award but died a year later. His family filed a wrongful death lawsuit and won $11 million in 2014.
- In 2014, a family received a verdict of $37 million from a Florida jury after Gary Hampton died from peritoneal mesothelioma. Hampton worked with Abex brakes and brake pads in his role as a mechanic in the 1970s.
Abex’s Asbestos Trust Fund
In 2006, Abex set up a trust fund to pay 38,000 claimants requesting damages for asbestos exposure and resulting illness.
The fund is called the Pneumo Abex Asbestos Claims Settlement Trust and was set up through Cooper Industries and Federal-Mogul, which owned Abex in the 1990s.
Cooper contributed $256 million to the fund to cover the costs associated with claims related to Abex products. Eaton Corp., which bought Cooper in 2012, was ordered to contribute $293 million.
The trust fund was a required part of the reorganization of Pneumo-Abex, which continues to manufacture products after the bankruptcy.
How to Seek Compensation After Abex or Pneumo-Abex Asbestos Exposure
If you were employed by Abex, or if you worked in an industry using Abex products and were diagnosed with an asbestos-related condition, you may be entitled to compensation.
The trust fund was organized to ensure adequate funds for future claims. To receive compensation, you are required to submit a claim to fund administrators.
You must also adequately prove your exposure and its relation to your diagnosis. A mesothelioma lawyer can aid you in this complicated process, helping you make a successful claim.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
Page Written by Mary Ellen Ellis
Mary Ellen Ellis has been the head writer for Mesothelioma.net since 2016. With hundreds of mesothelioma and asbestos articles to her credit, she is one of the most experienced writers on these topics. Her degrees and background in science and education help her explain complicated medical topics for a wider audience. Mary Ellen takes pride in providing her readers with the critical information they need following a diagnosis of an asbestos-related illness.
Page Edited by Patient Advocate 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.