Babcock & Wilcox makes machinery associated with power generation, including renewable energy systems, boiler cleaning systems, and steam generation systems, products historically made with asbestos. Working conditions caused asbestos exposure and resulting mesothelioma or similar illnesses in many employees. Asbestos lawsuits filed against the company forced it into bankruptcy and reorganization with the creation of an asbestos trust fund to settle current and future claims.
Founders Stephen Wilcox and George Babcock partnered in 1867 to form Babcock, Wilcox, and Company. These two men founded the company to manufacture the water tube boiler. Wilcox invented the water boiler and received a patent for it in 1856.
In 1881, the Pearl Street Power Station in New York City became the first electrical station in the U.S. These boilers powered the station. By 1902, boilers were powering the entire New York subway system.
Beginning in the early 1900s, Babcock & Wilcox began to provide boilers for government agencies and the military. Their boilers powered several U.S. Navy ships.
Over the years, as Babcock & Wilcox improved their designs, they continued to provide the government and other institutions with boilers. Advances included components for powering nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers.
Babcock & Wilcox also expanded their services and products. As a result, the company began to supply boiler cleaning services, coal plants, waste-to-energy plants, and emission control systems for coal plants.
By 2000, the company was forced to reorganize under the protection of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This was due to the number of asbestos-related claims and lawsuits. In 2006, the company emerged from bankruptcy as Babcock & Wilcox Company.
Products Made with Asbestos
Babcock & Wilcox used asbestos for many years. While this dangerous mineral was not used in the direct manufacture of their boilers and other products, it was used alongside their manufacture.
Some material is needed to protect people and machinery from high heat and potential fire risks of boilers and similar products, so it is not surprising that several boiler components and accessories contained asbestos to insulate them and protect against fire.
Asbestos was used in many industries; however, the maritime industry may have used it most heavily. For Babcock & Wilcox, the use of asbestos extended to its:
- Standard boilers
- Furnace boilers
- Coal pulverizers for coal plants
- Steam boiler parts
- Insulating fire bricks
The company’s maritime boilers also contained asbestos in and around them. Because fire is such a dangerous risk on ships out at sea, asbestos was a natural choice for construction. As a result, many U.S. Naval veterans were exposed to asbestos, some originating from Babcock & Wilcox boilers.
A wide range of industries used Babcock & Wilcox products. Factories and other job sites that required a boiler may have had one manufactured by Babcock & Wilcox.
Boilers create excessive heat that must be contained to protect the integrity of parts and machinery and the people working nearby. Workers installing, maintaining, or repairing boilers were often at risk of asbestos exposure.
In addition to Babcock & Wilcox employees, many others risked exposure to asbestos used in and around the company’s products. Pipefitters, shipbuilders, ship maintenance workers, insulators, millwrights, and submarine crews were specifically at risk; plumbers, electricians, lathe operators, and many other workers may have been exposed to asbestos from the company’s products and were put at risk for asbestos-related illnesses.
Babcock & Wilcox first saw asbestos lawsuits in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The vast number of lawsuits eventually led the company to bankruptcy reorganization in 1982. By 2000, the number of lawsuits reached hundreds of thousands, with claims amounting to billions of dollars.
As an example, one claim involved a pipefitter in the U.S. Navy who was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Eventually, the court awarded him nearly $3 million in compensation from Babcock & Wilcox and other defendants. Another suit against the company ended in an award to the family of a deceased Navy veteran who worked as a fireman striker and machinist.
Like many other companies that used asbestos, Babcock & Wilcox has been accused of knowing the health risks of asbestos exposure and failing to protect workers.
A memo from 1978 was discovered proving Babcock & Wilcox was aware of the dangers associated with asbestos. The memo showed the company was aware it was violating asbestos exposure limits set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The memo also proves company officials planned to investigate and intended to warn workers of the potential risk. Evidence like this makes it easier for victims of asbestos exposure to get the compensation they need after being exposed without adequate warning.
Babcock & Wilcox Asbestos Trust Fund
The company took many years to settle lawsuits and reorganize under chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. As a result, Babcock & Wilcox was required to create a trust fund to cover current and future asbestos claims. The company established the trust in 2006.
The Babcock & Wilcox trust is facing scrutiny, investigation, and possible legal action against it. Attorneys general from several states initiated action to investigate the trust and those established by several other companies.
There is a possibility they are not reimbursing states for expenditures made by Medicare and Medicaid. States believe lawyers are abusing the trusts by paying out settlements without first reimbursing Medicare and Medicaid.
If you were affected by asbestos through Babcock & Wilcox, you can reach out to the trust fund to make a claim. You can file one of two different ways: an expedited or individual review. You will need to prove your exposure originated with Babcock & Wilcox; also, you will need to show your illness is related to exposure, and you have serious symptoms from an asbestos-related condition.
Processes for making claims through an asbestos trust fund can be confusing and complicated; therefore, it is important to work with a mesothelioma or asbestos lawyer for the best chance of making a successful claim.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
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.