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CertainTeed Corporation

The CertainTeed Corporation has been in existence in some form or another for over 100 years. It began as a manufacturer of roofing materials and expanded over the years to produce and manufacture a wide variety of construction materials. Because of its ability to insulate and its lightweight strength, asbestos was used in many of the products.

Although the company does not use asbestos now, it caused the exposure and resulting illness in many people. These workers and families of workers got sick with mesothelioma, lung cancer, or asbestosis from breathing in the fibers of asbestos that were used in CertainTeed products. Although the company faced a number of lawsuits over asbestos exposure, and it paid out millions of dollars, CertainTeed never filed for bankruptcy or created an asbestos trust fund. It now exists as a subsidiary of Saint-Gobain.

Company History

The history of CertainTeed begins with the founding of General Roofing Manufacturing Company by George M. Brown in 1904. This original company was located in East St. Louis, Illinois, but today the company is headquartered in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. General Roofing had a slogan it used in its early years: “Quality made certain, satisfaction guaranteed.” This slogan became the basis for a name change in 1917 to CertainTeed.

Over many decades CertainTeed expanded its product line from roofing materials to a wide range of commercial and residential construction materials and products. These included insulation, cement pipe, vinyl siding, and many other products. Many of these additions to the product lineup came from the acquisition of other construction material manufacturers.

In 1988 CertainTeed was acquired by Saint-Gobain and became a wholly-owned subsidiary of that company. Today, CertainTeed is one of the leading manufacturers of construction materials in the country. It survived the numerous asbestos-related lawsuits that the company faced in the 1980s and 1990s, without needing to reorganize under bankruptcy protection. Although it never filed for Chapter 11 and is still successful today, CertainTeed has paid millions in settlements to people who were exposed to asbestos through the company’s products and who got sick because of that exposure.

Asbestos Use

The use of asbestos in construction materials was not unusual for the early 1900s through the 1970s when the federal government put restrictions on it. It was not until the 1960s when it became well known that asbestos could cause serious illness, including incurable cancer, in people who accidentally inhaled its fibers. Before this was known, asbestos was used so heavily because it was easy to come by and it could add strength to materials and could insulate well without adding a lot of weight.

CertainTeed started using asbestos in the manufacturing of its products in the 1930s and stopped using it in the 1980s. For 50 or more years the company made several products with asbestos that were distributed and used around the country. These included cement sheets and cement pipes strengthened with asbestos, plastic cement, sealing cement, cold process cement, acoustical plaster, roof coating, and joint treating compound.

Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos fibers are tiny and they easily come loose from the mineral when used to make products like construction materials. When those little fibers come loose they can fill the air with dust and settle on surfaces. Anyone in the vicinity may either inhale the fibers or consume them without realizing it. The fibers do not pass easily through the body, instead getting lodged in tissues and causing damage and illness many years later. Anyone who worked around or directly with CertainTeed asbestos products was likely exposed to some extent.

Workers in the factories that manufactured CertainTeed products were most likely exposed. Even those workers who did not handle the asbestos could have been exposed just by being in the same facility with asbestos. The exposure extends well beyond the CertainTeed employees, though. Any workers in other industries that used their products were also likely to have been exposed. This means that all kinds of construction workers, boiler workers, plumbers, electricians, ship builders and repairers, and many others could have been exposed to asbestos because of CertainTeed.

Superfund Sites

CertainTeed also left behind a contaminated legacy. More than one Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site contains asbestos from CertainTeed and other manufacturers. These include the Alviso site near San Jose, California and the Ambler asbestos piles in Ambler Pennsylvania. These and other sites include dumped waste products from CertainTeed and other companies. For instance, at Alviso, broken cement pipes that CertainTeed manufactured with asbestos in a facility in Santa Clara, California ended up here as waste and now contaminated the area. Clean up is ongoing, but Superfund sites put nearby residents at risk.

Asbestos Lawsuits

CertainTeed used a lot of asbestos and put many people at risk for getting sick with asbestos-related illnesses. Those who did get sick filed lawsuits against the company, and these numbered in the thousands. An example of the lawsuits the company had to face was brought by the wife of a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power worker. She claimed that she developed mesothelioma after years of her husband bringing asbestos fibers home on his clothes. He worked as a cement pipe cutter and mostly used asbestos-containing pipes made by CertainTeed. CertainTeed argued that the city of Los Angeles was liable, but the jury forced the city and the company to share costs. CertainTeed was required to pay 70 percent of the $208.8 million award.

Another lawsuit against CertainTeed concluded in 2005 with a $3.4 million award to the plaintiff, a machine operator who developed mesothelioma. He worked for more than 25 years for the West Contra Costa County Wastewater District and used cement pipe made by CertainTeed during the course of his job duties. Part of the reason that the jury found in favor of the worker was that evidence was discovered that CertainTeed knew about the risks of asbestos to workers from the mid-1960s on and yet failed to warn workers.

CertainTeed, unlike other similar companies, was never so overwhelmed by lawsuits like these that it needed to file for bankruptcy or create an asbestos trust fund. However, the company is still facing lawsuits and is expected to see more in the future. Illnesses like mesothelioma take decades to manifest and there are likely to be more people diagnosed in the coming years and many of these may be able to trace asbestos exposure back to CertainTeed products.

CertainTeed no longer makes products with asbestos, and in fact, is now dedicated to manufacturing sustainable and eco-friendly construction products. This does not change the fact that it caused decades of harm causing people to be exposed to asbestos and to get sick. If you can trace your asbestos illness to working for CertainTeed or working with or around their products, you can file a lawsuit to seek damages.

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