Ehret Magnesia was a company that made a number of asbestos-containing products including pipes and insulation. It no longer exists today, but the consequences of its use of asbestos are still being felt by the victims who got sick from exposure to asbestos through the company’s products and by the company that bought it and took on liability for thousands of claimants.
The company that ultimately ended up with liability for Ehret products was the Keene Corporation. This company ultimately reorganized under bankruptcy protection and as part of the deal was required to create an asbestos trust fund that would settle claims as long as they arose and could be validated. Overall, Keene would face thousands of lawsuits and claims over the years.
Ehret Magnesia Manufacturing Company was founded in 1897. It manufactured and sold a variety of products, but saw a lot of success with its Durocel and Thermalite asbestos insulated pipes. Asbestos was used extensively for insulating a variety of materials in the past. It was readily available and inexpensive and could insulate against heat, fire, and electricity.
One of Ehret’s primary manufacturing sites was in what is today known as Valley Forge National Historical Park in Pennsylvania. Ehret acquired several limestone mines there, which is why it chose that location to set up manufacturing. The plant operated here through the 1970s. It was discovered only later that the company had also dumped toxic waste, including asbestos in the area and in the nearby Schuylkill River.
With the limestone mined in the area and asbestos, Ehret expanded its lineup of products to include a range of asbestos-insulated materials and construction products. Evidence from the company shows that executives and managers may have known by the 1940s and 1950s that asbestos was causing some of the Ehret workers to develop respiratory illnesses, including lung cancer, and yet they did nothing to warn employees.
In 1959, Ehret Magnesia merged with another company making insulation, Baldwin-Hill. The new company was called Baldwin-Ehret-Hill. In 1968 this company was acquired by the Keene Corporation. Keene did not manufacture any asbestos products, but it sold them through the new subsidiary and took on liability for them as a result. The National Park Service bought the manufacturing plant and surrounding area in Valley Forge in 1976. In 1993, facing thousands of asbestos lawsuits, Keene filed for bankruptcy and emerged in 1996 with a trust fund to compensate victims.
Asbestos Use in Ehret Products
Ehret made a number of products that contained asbestos over the years, although its most popular asbestos product was thermally insulated pipe. Along with Baldwin-Hill the company made asbestos cements, blocks, millboard, and other products. Some examples of specific branded products are Thermalite insulation, Number One insulating cement, Ehret asbestos millboard, Baldwin Mono-Block asbestos covering, Mono-Block insulating cement, Ehret Fiberkote, Ehret asbestos wick and rope, and Valley Forge asbestos sheets, gaskets, and packings.
Occupational Asbestos Exposure
The occupational asbestos exposure that Ehret products caused was extensive. Asbestos is a harmful mineral because the inhalation of its fibers can cause serious damage to tissues and organs. The fibers are microscopic and impossible to see. They can become part of the dust in the air in a facility that uses asbestos, and without the proper protective gear, workers can inhale the fibers. They get lodged in the body, causing the damage that may eventually lead to a diagnosis of mesothelioma, lung cancer, or asbestosis.
The products that Ehret and its successors made harmed the workers in the plants that manufactured them. The company noticed early on that workers were getting respiratory illnesses and even cancer, and yet they failed to protect them or warn of the connection between the illnesses and being around asbestos. These workers may even have contaminated their families by bringing fibers of asbestos home on their clothing and shoes. Further contamination came from the asbestos waste the company illegally dumped at the Valley Forge site. Even workers who did not handle asbestos directly were put at risk of exposure because of the dumping.
Other workers were also exposed to asbestos through Ehret products. Workers who handled their products were put at risk for exposure even though they worked for different companies. This included pipefitters, insulation workers, shipyard workers, and other types of construction workers, anyone who installed, repaired, or removed and replaced Ehret asbestos products and materials. Ehret products were used by the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard on ships, putting military personnel at risk as well.
Valley Forge Dumping and Cleanup
Workers at the Valley Forge Park discovered asbestos on the site in 1997. The workers were running fiber optic cables and found the soil was contaminated with asbestos. This was traced back to Ehret’s activities at the manufacturing plant. Eventually the discovery was made that the company had illegally dumped waste there for decades, including asbestos. The waste was largely dumped into abandoned mining quarries and the Schuylkill River.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was brought in to clean up the site. The area was fenced off and the soil was wetted to prevent fibers of asbestos from getting into the air. The official EPA cleanup concluded the same year, but there are still ongoing efforts to monitor and ensure that there is no more contamination that could harm visitors, workers, and nearby residents.
Asbestos Lawsuits and Keene’s Asbestos Trust Fund
Keene Corporation took on liability for Ehret’s asbestos products and resulting exposure when it bought Baldwin-Ehret-Hill. Lawsuits over asbestos illnesses began coming in as early as the 1970s. Over a couple of decades, the company saw and settled thousands of cases, but more and more claims and lawsuits kept coming in, costing Keene millions of dollars. In one case Keene went to court with a plaintiff who was ultimately awarded $3 million by the jury.
In another case a man who worked as an electrician at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard sued Keene and several other manufacturers over his asbestosis. He worked on a number of ships and submarines for decades in the shipyard and that involved handling Ehret and other asbestos materials, especially insulation. The jury awarded him a settlement, part of which had to be paid by Keene.
As these lawsuits continued to accumulate, Keene suffered financial difficulties. Over 100,000 claims meant that Keene could not keep up and was forced to seek bankruptcy protection in 1993. The company emerged reorganized in 1996. The reorganization included the creation of a trust fund to hand ongoing and future claims over past Ehret products that caused people to get sick.
You can now file a claim through the Keene Creditors Trust if you believe that your asbestos-related illness can be attributed to exposure from Ehret products. A mesothelioma and asbestos lawyer can help you make a case and file a claim that has the best chance of leading to a settlement amount to cover medical and other expenses.
Page edited by Dave Foster
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