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Garlock Sealing Technologies

Today, Garlock Sealing Technologies is a subsidiary of the larger company called EnPro Industries. The company has a long history in inventing, manufacturing, and selling sealant products, all based on an early invention for sealing pistons in steam engines used in trains in the 1800s. For many years the company used asbestos and the consequences of that are still being felt now.

Although Garlock no longer uses asbestos in its seals, the harmful mineral put thousands of people at risk of exposure and of developing asbestos-related illnesses like mesothelioma. This led to lawsuits against the company and the eventual need to file for bankruptcy and set up a trust fund to compensate victims. Garlock emerged from bankruptcy re-organized and once again producing important sealing technologies.

About Garlock

Garlock is a company with international reach and nearly 2,000 employees. These workers make pipelines solutions and fluid sealing materials and products for industries that include oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, water and waste water, mining, nuclear power, chemical processing, construction, pulp and paper, and many others, all of which need high performance seals. Garlock also engages in research, building on a history of developing innovative sealing products. Garlock is currently a subsidiary of EnPro Industries, and international manufacturing company

Company History

The history of Garlock Sealing Technologies dates back to 1887 when Olin J. Garlock invented a way to seal pistons in steam engines that was much more efficient and effective than methods used up to that point. Garlock founded his company in Palmyra, New York and worked originally with locomotive steam engines, but eventually he applied his technology to other industries. Eventually his technology would become standard in industrial steam engines and in other types of industries.

Over time, Garlock would add to its lineup of products related to sealing and began to include things like gaskets, valves, pump diaphragms, expansion joints, compression packing, and other products. Unfortunately, for much of its history Garlock used asbestos in these products. That practice led eventually to the company’s bankruptcy and reorganization. Unlike some asbestos-related companies, Garlock was able to reorganize successfully and come out on top, still a leader in its industry.

Garlock Asbestos Products

Asbestos was used in many different industries, up until approximately the mid-1970s, when the federal government put regulations in place to limit its use. This was after the discovery that asbestos fibers could harm people and cause illnesses like mesothelioma and asbestosis. Asbestos has many natural properties that made it useful for things like sealing materials, gaskets, valves, and similar products. It is pliable and strong, but lightweight, resists heat, fire, electricity, and many chemical reactions.

The federal regulations on asbestos, put in place in the 1970s, did not completely ban the mineral. Many companies, including Garlock, continued to use it to some extent. Some of the products that Garlock made with asbestos include Garlock Compressed Asbestos Sheet, Chemiseal Jacketed Gaskets, Pre-Cut Gasketing, Garlock-200 High Pressure Ring Packing, Garfite 200 Graphite Filament Packing, Plastallic Packings, Garlock Insulation Tape, Plasti-Thread Seal Tape, and Garlock 612 Asbestos Tape.

Asbestos Exposure from Garlock Products

A number of people, working in a variety of jobs, were put at risk of being exposed to asbestos fibers because of Garlock gaskets, packing, tapes, and other sealing products. The Garlock workers who manufactured these products, or who simply worked in the manufacturing facilities near the materials used to make them, were put at risk. By handling and being around asbestos, they were put at risk of inhaling or ingesting the tiny, microscopic fibers that easily break off of the mineral.

The exposure goes well beyond those people who worked directly for Garlock. Any workers that used their products in the course of their jobs were likely to have been exposed to some degree. This may include plumbers, insulators, construction workers of all types, engineers, electricians, steel workers, oil and gas workers, chemical plant workers, and many others. Maintenance workers who had to handle these products directly, to assemble, install, repair, or maintain components with sealing products, were especially at risk. By handling the products, they may have disturbed the asbestos and been exposed to the fibers.

Lawsuits

Because of the asbestos used in so many of its products, Garlock has faced thousands of lawsuits from people who got sick or from the loved ones of people who passed away after asbestos exposure. A man named Donald Reynolds, a worker at an oil refinery, developed pleural mesothelioma after working for 35 years. He sued several companies, including Garlock, and blamed workplace exposure to asbestos on his devastating illness. Garlock was determined to carry 60 percent of the liability and the jury awarded Reynolds $3.75 million.

In another major case the jury awarded the plaintiff $10.4 million. The plaintiff was Wanda Jones, the wife of a Newport News, Virginia shipyard worker. Buddy Jones worked in shipbuilding and was exposed to asbestos through the use of gaskets and sealing pumps. He developed mesothelioma many years later and died before his widow won the settlement in the case against Garlock. In another case, a man who worked at a Union Carbide plant for many years worked with Garlock products and developed mesothelioma. In 2010 he and his wife won a settlement of $3 million when the jury decided that Garlock was 45 percent at fault for his illness.

Bankruptcy and Asbestos Trust Fund

These were just three examples of thousands of lawsuits against Garlock, which all together led to the company being forced to file for bankruptcy protection in 2010. Although it faced so many lawsuits, and it was faced to pay out in many of them, Garlock aggressively defended its liability in these cases and won many of them. Still, the overwhelming number of cases led inevitably to bankruptcy.

A requirement of bankruptcy was the establishment of a trust fund that would continue to pay out settlements to victims that came forward with valid claims. Garlock won a significant victory in the matter of asbestos payouts in 2014. Plaintiffs’ lawyers had been seeking a total of $1.4 billion for the asbestos trust fund but a judge cut that amount way down to just $125 million. The judge cited the inflation of claims by lawyers and that some lawyers were withholding evidence that proved their clients were exposed to asbestos through multiple sources, not just Garlock’s products.

Garlock Sealing Technologies is once again a leader in innovative sealing products and uses no asbestos in any of them. The many lawsuits that came after the company hurt it, but with bankruptcy protection it was able to reorganize successfully. At the same time, victims of exposure over the years were given the settlements they deserved to make up for their terrible illnesses.

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