Combustion Engineering was a Connecticut-based engineering firm that developed and made equipment for burning fossil fuels, like boilers and stokers, as well as coal pulverizing equipment, solutions for railroad steam engines, and other energy and power related applications. The company was acquired by ABB Group in 1990 after decades of making products that contained asbestos.
Because of its extensive use of asbestos over many years, Combustion Engineering was responsible for the exposure and illness in many workers and people who used their products in other industries. The company, as part of ABB Group, faced so many asbestos lawsuits over illnesses like mesothelioma and lung cancer, that it was forced to reorganize under Chapter 11 bankruptcy and to create an asbestos trust fund.
Combustion Engineering Company History
The founding of Combustion Engineering came in 1912 when the American Stoker Company merged with Grieve Grate Company. The newly merged company began operating with its headquarters in Manhattan, but eventually headquarters would be moved to Stamford, Connecticut. The two companies that came together to form Combustion Engineering were well known for making equipment for burning fuel, and that was the industry the new company began from and from which it would then expand.
From boilers, Combustion Engineering expanded into other related types of industries. In the 1930s it worked on developing new ways to improve the way steam engines in trains operated. After a merger with Superheater Company, Combustion Engineering also began producing assemblies for power plants, including coal burning plants and eventually nuclear power plants. During World War II the company contributed to the war effort by providing boilers for Navy ships.
Over many decades Combustion Engineering grew and expanded and added many products to its lineup, including cements, plastics, recycling equipment, and nuclear power equipment, among many others. In 1990 the company was bought by ABB Group, a large electrical equipment manufacturer and electrical engineering firm. It kept operating Combustion Engineering, which by 1990 was no longer using asbestos. However, by this time it had used asbestos for decades and lawsuits over asbestos illnesses were beginning to pile up.
Use of Asbestos by Combustion Engineering
Asbestos is a natural mineral that was used for many years in a variety of industries. It was mined from abundant deposits and was inexpensive. Asbestos also has unique properties that made it so popular for industrial use: It can resist electricity, heat, and fire effectively; it can add strength to materials; it is lightweight; and it acts as a binder in mixtures, like in cement. The health effects of being around asbestos weren’t fully realized until about the 1960s, but it continued to be used heavily into the 1970s.
Over its many years of working with fuel burning, construction, and other industries, Combustion Engineering manufactured a number of products that used asbestos. These included various types of cement, insulation, adhesives, asbestos ropes, thermal coatings, sealants, and many other products.
Being exposed to asbestos is harmful to health because the very small fibers of the mineral can become airborne and be inhaled by anyone in its vicinity. These fibers get lodged in tissues in the body, most often in or around the lungs, and cause damage. Over many years some people who were exposed in this way develop illnesses like mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer. In most cases the illness is progressive and incurable.
Because Combustion Engineering incorporated asbestos into so many of its products over so many years, anyone who worked for the company during those years was at risk for exposure and getting sick. Even workers who did not directly handle asbestos could have been exposed because the fibers can create a dust in the air and on surfaces that may expose many people anywhere in the area.
In addition to the people who actually worked for Combustion Engineering, all the workers who handled, installed, maintained, or replaced their products in a variety of industries were put at risk. Anyone working in power plants that used their materials, workers on construction sites, and even workers in railroads and shipyards may have used Combustion Engineering asbestos products. This includes the many Navy personnel who used their boilers and other products during and after World War II.
Asbestos Lawsuits against Combustion Engineering
When ABB Group acquired Combustion Engineering it took on its liabilities, and these included thousands of asbestos lawsuits. Beginning in the 1990s the company faced many of claims and lawsuits brought by victims of exposure to asbestos through Combustion Engineering products. By 2002 the company had over 110,000 cases pending. ABB worked hard to settle these claims and move on but was eventually forced to seek bankruptcy protection after paying out close to $1 billion. The process began in 2003 and the company emerged from reorganization and with a plan in 2006.
The Combustion Engineering Asbestos PI Trust
Part of the agreement that ABB came to in its reorganization efforts was to create an asbestos trust fund to handle the remaining claims and to handle those that were likely to arise in the future as more people are diagnosed with asbestos-related illnesses. The Combustion Engineering Asbestos Personal Injury Trust was set up in 2005 and soon after became active and began accepting claims from asbestos victims. The trust was funded with over $1.4 billion, which is expected to be enough to cover all pending and future claims against Combustion Engineering.
ABB Group and its Combustion Engineering division are both doing well today and continue to make the kinds of products they always made, but without using asbestos. This doesn’t change the fact that the company caused so much suffering in people who worked for the company or who used their products. Decades of asbestos use has taken its toll, and if you are one of the people affected by Combustion Engineering’s use of asbestos, you have recourse to take action and seek compensation for your suffering and medical expenses, or for the loss of a loved one. A good asbestos or mesothelioma lawyer can help you determine if your claim is likely to be accepted and can then walk you through the process of filing with the asbestos trust fund.
Page edited by Dave Foster
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