Companies that used asbestos made insulation, fireproofing materials, and many other construction and industrial products. Only later, after millions were exposed to asbestos, did experts discover the danger to human health. Facing expensive lawsuits after people became sick from exposure to their products, many companies reorganized under bankruptcy protection and created asbestos trust funds to compensate victims.
About the Asbestos Industry
Asbestos has been used for millennia; however, it wasn’t until the early 20th century that industries used asbestos extensively. Asbestos is a natural fibrous mineral.
Made of tiny fibers, asbestos is useful for adding strength to materials, insulating, and preventing the spread of fire. Asbestos is readily available, which made it an inexpensive, as well as useful, material.
Which Industries Used Asbestos?
Asbestos mining was at the heart of the asbestos industry. Mines existed in various parts of the U.S. and Canada and supplied many companies that used asbestos.
The use of asbestos in workplaces included the construction of facilities. Asbestos was used extensively in insulating factories and other buildings, especially around boilers and furnaces. Many companies also used asbestos to insulate parts in machinery and equipment.
There have also been many companies that used asbestos in the products they made. Firebricks, insulation, machinery, automotive parts, construction materials, fireproof textiles, ship parts, and materials, and many other products were made for decades with asbestos.
Which Workers Were Most at Risk of Asbestos Exposure?
Many industries put workers at risk of exposure during the decades of peak asbestos use. Some workers and industries carried a greater risk than others:
- Construction workers of all types
- Insulation workers
- Shipyard workers
- U.S. Navy service members
- Auto mechanics
- Factory and plant workers
- Machine operators
Is Asbestos Still Used in Industry?
Many uses of asbestos have been banned in the U.S., but not all. Leading producers of asbestos, including Russia, China, and Kazakhstan, still mine asbestos and export it to other countries. Some of this asbestos comes to the U.S.
While most have stopped using asbestos, one important industry in the U.S. still does. Chloralkali chemical plants that make chlorine use asbestos in some equipment as part of the manufacturing process.
Other industries, while no longer using new asbestos materials, still might put workers at risk of exposure. This is because asbestos lingers in older buildings, materials, equipment, and parts.
Many companies were involved in the asbestos industry, from mining to manufacturing. Workers who handled the asbestos to make the products, workers in other industries who used the products, and even people living in homes with asbestos-containing products and materials, were all put at risk of being exposed to asbestos.
Some of these companies no longer exist. Others emerged from bankruptcy protection as new, asbestos-free companies. Many former asbestos companies have paid millions in settlements and formed asbestos trusts to pay victims.
- 3M, the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company
- ABB Lummus Global, Inc.
- A.P. Green Industry
- The Abex Corporation
- Advance Auto Parts
- Amatex Corporation
- American Biltrite
- American Cyanamid Company
- American Olean Tile Company
- American Standard
- Anchor Packing Company
- Armstrong World Industries
- Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO)
- Aurora Pump Company
- A.W. Chesterton Co.
- Babcock, Wilcox & Company
- Bath Iron Works
- Bell Asbestos Mines
- Bestwall Gypsum
- BorgWarner Incorporated
- Burnham Holdings
- C. E. Thurston Company
- Celotex Corporation
- CertainTeed Corporation
- Combustion Engineering (CE)
- Congoleum Corporation
- Crown Cork & Seal
- Dana Corporation
- EaglePicher Industries Inc.
- Ehret Magnesia Manufacturing Company
- E.J. Bartells
- Federal-Mogul Corporation
- The Flintkote Company
- The Ford Motor Company
- Foster Wheeler
- General Aniline and Film (GAF) Corporation
- Georgia Pacific
- Garlock Sealing Technologies
- General Electric
- General Motors (GM)
- Gold Bond
- Great Lakes Steel
- H.K. Porter Inc.
- Harbison-Walker Refractories Company
- Honeywell Heating Specialty Co.
- Ingersoll Rand
- International Paper
- J.H. France Refractories Co., Inc.
- J.T. Thorpe and Son, Inc.
- John Crane Company
- Johns Manville
- Johnson & Johnson
- Kaiser Aluminum
- Kentile Floors
- Leslie Controls
- Lincoln Electric Company
- M.H. Detrick Company
- Malleable Iron Range Co.
- Mergenthaler Linotype Company
- Mobil Oil Corporation
- National Gypsum
- National Automotive Parts Association
- The Nicolet Company
- North American Refractories Company (NARCO)
- Owens Corning Corporation
- Owens-Illinois, Inc.
- P & H Mining
- Philadelphia Asbestos Corporation
- Pittsburgh Corning
- Plibrico Company
- Porter Hayden Company
- Rapid American Corporation (Philip Carey Manufacturing Corp.)
- Raybestos Industries
- Republic Powdered Metals (RPM Industries)
- Rock Wool Manufacturing Company
- Riley Stoker Corporation
- Rutland Fire Clay Company
- Shook and Fletcher
- Synkoloid Company
- Turner & Newall
- Union Asbestos and Rubber Company (UNARCO)
- Union Carbide
- U.S. Steel
- W.R. Grace & Co.
- Western MacArthur Company
- Westinghouse Electric Company
Did Companies Know About the Dangers of Asbestos?
In the 1970s, the government placed restrictions on asbestos use. These restrictions enforce acceptable workplace asbestos levels and also determined safe levels of airborne asbestos fibers. The health risks of asbestos were discovered long before those restrictions were enacted, however.
We know now that asbestos fibers can float in the form of dust, allowing them to be inhaled or ingested, causing damage. For some, this damage eventually leads to illnesses like mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis.
The most conclusive evidence that asbestos was harmful came from a 1964 study. A researcher published information making a clear connection between cancer, asbestosis, and asbestos insulation.
It took a long time for this information to become widely known, but evidence eventually came to light that showed some companies knew about and hid the risks of asbestos.
Johns Manville Asbestos Cover up
Today there is ample evidence many of the largest asbestos manufacturers knew of the health risks of asbestos but hid them from workers and consumers.
For example, files and memos from Johns Manville and Raybestos-Manhattan dating to the 1930s indicate executives knew asbestos exposure was harming workers. They later suppressed this information, refusing to take measures to protect employees.
Johnson & Johnson’s Talcum Powder
Another case of corporate cover-up of asbestos involves Johnson & Johnson. Several lawsuits in recent years have blamed J&J’s talcum powder products, like Baby Powder, on diagnoses of mesothelioma or ovarian cancer.
J&J has fought these lawsuits, denying that their products contained asbestos or caused cancer. Thousands of lawsuits led to investigations into the company and what it knew. Investigators turned up evidence from as early as the 1950s that J&J talcum powder had contaminants that resembled asbestos fibers.
A Reuters investigation uncovered documents that showed J&J lied to the FDA about asbestos in talcum powder. The company told the FDA that its talc products tested free of asbestos from 1972 to 1973. In reality, tests from three different labs conducted between 1972 and 1975 found asbestos in the J&J talc products.
Lawsuits Against Asbestos Manufacturers
Asbestos companies have faced thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, of lawsuits due to asbestos exposure and resulting illnesses. Company employees and workers in other facilities using their products have gotten sick.
U.S. Navy veterans working on ships with asbestos materials and people living near asbestos company facilities have developed illnesses related to asbestos use. Many have filed lawsuits for justice and compensation.
Lawsuits have cost companies millions, sometimes billions, in settlement payouts. Some cases were standouts due to precedents set or because they resulted in huge individual settlements.
Asbestos Trust Funds
While some asbestos companies could limit settlement amounts, many were forced to close or reorganize with Chapter 11 protection.
These businesses were required to create asbestos trust funds as a condition of bankruptcy protection. They set up trust funds to ensure adequate funds to cover damages for victims, even if the company ceased to exist.
Asbestos trust funds have varied in size and format depending on company size and the expected number of future cases.
Some trust funds, including those set up by Johns Manville, Owens Corning Corporation, USG Corporation, and others, were funded with several billion dollars. Others are smaller, with only a few million dollars.
What to Do if You Worked with Asbestos Products
If you worked for an asbestos company or in a job that used their products, you could be at risk for mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, or other illnesses. Talk to your doctor about your risk factors, any symptoms you have, and screenings for asbestos illnesses.
If you receive a diagnosis, contact an experienced mesothelioma lawyer. They will evaluate your case for free and provide advice and guidance. You might be able to file a lawsuit to seek damages or make a claim with an asbestos trust. Act quickly because there are time limits on taking legal action.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.