Garlock Sealing Technologies
Garlock Sealing Technologies is a subsidiary of 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 felt today.
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 its eventual bankruptcy, during which it set up a trust fund to compensate victims. Garlock emerged from bankruptcy reorganized and once again producing important sealing products.
A modern, multinational company, Garlock has nearly 2,000 employees who make pipeline solutions, fluid sealing materials and products for industries like 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 does research into new sealing products. EnPro Industries, an international manufacturing company, owns Garlock.
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 existing methods. Garlock set up his business in Palmyra, New York, working originally with locomotive steam engines, but eventually applying his technology in other industries. Eventually his products would become standard in industrial steam engines and other machines.
Over time, Garlock added to its sealing product lineup with 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 until the mid-1970s, when the federal government restricted its use because its fibers were linked to illnesses like mesothelioma and asbestosis. Asbestos has many natural properties that made it useful for sealing materials, gaskets, valves, and similar products. It is pliable and strong, but lightweight, resists heat, fire, electricity, and many chemical reactions.
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
Many people in a variety of jobs risked exposure to asbestos fibers because of Garlock gaskets, packing, tapes, and other sealing products. The Garlock workers who made these products, or who simply worked in factories near the materials used to make them, were put at risk. By handling and being around asbestos, they risked inhaling or ingesting the tiny, microscopic fibers that easily break off of the mineral.
Potential exposure goes well beyond those who worked directly for Garlock. Any workers that used their products on the job 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.
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 died after asbestos exposure. 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 found to carry 60 percent of the liability and the jury awarded Reynolds $3.75 million.
In another major case the jury awarded plaintiff Wanda Jones $10.4 million. She was the wife of a Newport News, Virginia shipyard worker, Buddy Jones, who 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 from Garlock. In another case, a man employed 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 are only three examples of thousands of lawsuits against Garlock, which together forced the business to file for bankruptcy protection in 2010. Although it faced many lawsuits, and was forced to pay out in many of them, Garlock aggressively defended its liability in these cases and won many times. Even so, the overwhelming number of cases led inevitably to bankruptcy.
Bankruptcy required Garlock to create a trust fund that would continue to pay out settlements to victims who 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 to just $125 million. The judge cited the inflation of claims by lawyers and ruled 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 them. Lawsuits hurt the company, but with bankruptcy protection it reorganized successfully. At the same time, victims of exposure over the years were given the settlements they deserved to make up for their terrible illnesses.
Page edited by Dave Foster
- https://www.forbes.com/sites/danielfisher/2014/01/10/judge-slashes-asbestos-liability-in-garlock-bankruptcy-to-125-million/ - 504b683a6bd6
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