Foster Wheeler is a power, engineering, and construction contracting company based in Geneva, Switzerland. For most of its history the company was headquartered in the U.S. and came from the merger of older companies, one of which made products with asbestos in them. These products included the components of boilers, generators, and other heat and power related machines.
While asbestos use made sense at one time, it was later discovered that the mineral was harming workers, causing higher rates of mesothelioma and lung cancer. Foster Wheeler has faced thousands of lawsuits over exposing workers in a range of industries, including the military. The company has had to pay millions in settlements but has survived and thrived in spite of the big costs.
Foster Wheeler didn’t always exist as the international large company that it is today, but its history does date back over 160 years to a lead business in the UK founded in 1848 by Matthew Hall. In 1884 the Forster family in the U.S. began its company called the Water Works Supply Company, and 1891 saw the founding of the Wheeler Condensing and Engineering Company. The Foster’s company changed its name to Power Specialty Company and in 1927 merged with Wheeler to form the Foster Wheeler Corporation.
Over many decades the original Matthew Hall Company grew into a large mechanical, engineering, and construction company and merged with other large British companies in similar industries, creating the AMEC group. In 2014, AMEC and Foster Wheeler came together to create a large company specializing in international engineering, project delivery, power equipment, power consulting, and asset support.
From the 1920s on Foster Wheeler was a company engaged in designing and constructing oil refineries, petrochemical plants, making boilers, and supplying equipment and machinery for these and other types of similar industries related to fuel and power generation. Much of the work that the company did involved high-heat work environments, which meant using asbestos in many applications. In particular, Wheeler Condensing and Engineering used a lot of asbestos in boilers and steam generators and it supplied the military with many of these asbestos products.
Asbestos use led to asbestos lawsuits when workers and military personnel became sick and were diagnosed with conditions related to workplace exposure. In spite of facing thousands of expensive lawsuits, Foster Wheeler did not have to reorganize under bankruptcy protection and continued to operate, expanding even further with extensive subsidiaries like the Foster Wheeler Constructors, Foster Wheeler Energy International, Foster Wheeler Power Systems, and several others.
Asbestos use in the power industry was not unusual at a time when experts had not yet realized how harmful the mineral could be to workers exposed to it. Asbestos is a natural mineral well suited to industries that involve a lot of heat. It is efficient at resisting heat, insulating, resisting the spread of fire, and maintaining durability in spite of extreme heat. It was used in a variety of industries to insulate, protect against heat and fire, and to make materials stronger and longer-lasting.
Because Foster Wheeler made components and built facilities for the power industry, it used asbestos for its heat-related qualities. Some of the products the company made with asbestos include valves, gaskets, steam generators, boilers and boiler components, refractory block insulation, marine boilers, surface condensers, and steam drums.
Asbestos exposure is a serious health issue because the fibers of this natural mineral are small but dangerous. The mineral is fibrous, which means that small, needle-like pieces can easily come off and float into the air or settle onto surfaces. The fibers become part of the dust in a room or work space and people in the area may inhale them or ingest them without even realizing it. Once inside the body these fibers do not pass easily and become lodged in tissues, most often in and around the lungs. Once lodged there the fibers cause damage to cells and over many years can cause illnesses like mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer and other types of cancer.
Foster Wheeler caused this kind of harm to potentially thousands of people. Workers in its own facilities were at risk because they either handled the asbestos directly or they were in the vicinity where asbestos was being used. They could easily have inhaled the fibers. They could also have contaminated their families by carrying asbestos fibers home on their clothing.
Also put at risk because of Foster Wheeler’s asbestos use were all the other workers in other industries and for other companies that used or worked around Foster Wheeler products. This includes boilermakers, pipefitters, power plant workers, mechanics, electricians, and others. Also put at risk were men and women in the military, particularly in the U.S. Navy. Foster Wheeler made marine boilers and the military was a primary customer. Any workers on those ships or in the shipyards were put at risk for exposure and later illness.
Because Foster Wheeler put so many people at risk for exposure to asbestos the company has faced a number of lawsuits over the resulting illnesses. Foster Wheeler was one of the defendants in one of the biggest cases for asbestos exposure in California. A Navy veteran and electrician sued the company and others after working on ship boilers and developing mesothelioma. He was awarded over $22 million by the jury and his wife was given $11. Foster Wheeler was found to be liable for 30 percent of that award.
This was just one example of the thousands of cases that Foster Wheeler was forced to go to trial over or settle. In spite of the high number of cases, the company never had to go through bankruptcy and reorganization in order to survive. This means that it never set up an asbestos trust fund to pay settlements, as many other companies did.
If you believe your asbestos exposure and resulting illness came from Foster Wheeler products or workplaces, you can still seek compensation. People who were exposed are still receiving new diagnoses and the company is still liable. You can rely on an experienced asbestos lawyer to help you file a lawsuit that may just win you the compensation you deserve.
Page edited by Dave Foster
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