General Electric (GE)
General Electric, or GE, is a large conglomerate corporation with headquarters in New York and Boston and operations all over the world. The reach of the company is massive with operations in aviation, software, automotive, engineering, healthcare, oil and gas, power, lighting, medical devices, and many other industries through its many segments. It is the 13th largest company in the U.S. and is also one of the most profitable.
With a history that dates back to the inventions and creative genius of Thomas Edison, GE has been making products for more than 100 years, and some of those in the past contained asbestos. The ability of the mineral to resist heat and fire was useful but also led to exposure and illness in a number of workers. GE has faced thousands of lawsuits over this exposure, but is big enough and profitable enough that it has not had to file for bankruptcy as a result.
About the General Electric Company
General Electric is a huge company and one that also has a long history in industrial operations. The company today is highly profitable and makes a big variety of products including aircraft engines and the equipment that goes into power plants. GE is also known for its research and its work in energy, and in more recent times its reach in finance and healthcare. There are multiple divisions within this large company: Additive, Aviation, Capital, Digital, Energy Connections, Healthcare, Lighting, Oil and Gas, Power, Renewable Energy, and Transportation. Some of its most cutting-edge current research projects and innovations are movable power plants, clean wind energy and turbines, and using the gravitational force of the moon to generate clean energy.
GE is a classic American company with a rich history that includes famous inventor Thomas Edison. It all began with Edison’s research and inventions relating to electricity and his founding of multiple electricity companies in the late 1880s when this was a novel technology. He had companies that manufactured dynamos and motors, electric light bulbs, and other technologies. The Edison General Electric Company was incorporated in 1889, which became the General Electric Company in 1892 after a merger with the Thomas-Houston Electric Company.
In 1896, GE became one of the first 12 companies listed on the Dow Jones Industrial Average and became a publicly-traded operation. Today it is the only one of those original 12 still remaining. Financial backing by J.P. Morgan and the Vanderbilt family helped to make GE and Edison’s inventions as successful as they were to become over the years.
Over the decades of its existence, GE acquired many smaller companies and also grew by expanding its products and services. By 1980 it was a $25 billion company and one of the world’s largest companies. It has acquired and sold companies as varied as RCA, NBC, CGR Medical Supplies, and Employers Reinsurance. Diversity in its products and services has helped to make GE successful and profitable.
Asbestos Use in Products
Because GE was involved in so many industrial applications, it is no surprise that it made products with asbestos before the discovery of how harmful it is to human health. Because asbestos is strong and lightweight, flexible, heat and fire resistant, electrically resistant, and chemically resistant, this mineral has been used in wide variety of industrial products and processes, including many in which GE was involved.
Steam turbines were among the products GE made that included a lot of asbestos. Other products that contained asbestos in the past were a variety of electronics, power generating equipment, cables, plastic molding compounds, and products under the brand names Deltabeston and Wil-Son Patent-Flex. Many of the components in the manufacturing facilities under the GE umbrella also contained asbestos, especially furnaces and insulation.
Asbestos Exposure in Workers
Because of the heavy use of asbestos, many workers, both those who worked directly for GE and those who worked in other industries with GE products, were exposed to asbestos and were put at risk of developing mesothelioma, asbestos lung cancer, or asbestosis. Workers in GE facilities may have been exposed from handling the asbestos that went into products or just from being in the vicinity of asbestos. The small fibers can easily come loose from asbestos and contaminate the air and surfaces.
Workers in other industries that used GE products with asbestos were also put at risk of exposure and getting seriously ill. These include workers in power plants, electricians, insulation workers, shipyard workers, demolition workers, maintenance and repair workers, and many others. All could have been exposed to the harmful fibers if they worked with or around GE asbestos products.
Because of that potential exposure a lot of people got sick many years after working in these industries. Many of them have directed asbestos lawsuits at GE, seeking fair compensation for their medical bills, pain and suffering, and shortened life expectancies. Because of the size and profitability of GE, the company has so far been able to survive these often expensive lawsuits and has avoided bankruptcy.
One example of a lawsuit against GE over asbestos was filed by Arthur Montgomery, a former Port Everglades Power Plant worker. He worked with GE turbines during his career and claimed that he was exposed to asbestos fibers as a result. He carried those fibers home on his clothes, which exposed his wife. She died from mesothelioma shortly after Arthur filed a lawsuit over her illness. Exposure and damage caused by asbestos goes beyond those workers who directly worked with the mineral.
Men and women who worked in shipyards and on ships, including sailors in the U.S. Navy are among those types of workers most put at risk because of asbestos. In 2007 GE faced a lawsuit brought by a former sailor who accused the company of never warning sailors and other workers that the GE products they used contained asbestos and that it posed a risk to human health. This sailor died of mesothelioma, but GE never admitted fault in his illness and death.
GE is a massive company that has had a big impact on millions of people. Among those unfortunately, are thousands of people who were put at risk of getting sick because of asbestos use. GE is now facing lawsuits because of the exposure it caused in so many workers and their loved ones.
Page edited by Dave Foster
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