General Electric (GE) is an enormous conglomerate corporation born from the inventions of Thomas Edison and with operations in a wide range of industries. Many of these have included asbestos, and the company has faced thousands of lawsuits over exposure.
About the General Electric Company
General Electric is a huge company with a long industrial history. GE makes a wide variety of products including aircraft engines and power plant equipment. It conducts extensive research in the energy sector and more recently has moved into finance and healthcare.
A conglomerate, GE has many operational divisions. These divisions include Additive, Aviation, Capital, Digital, Energy Connections, Healthcare, Lighting, Oil and Gas, Power, Renewable Energy, and Transportation.
The company’s cutting-edge research and innovations include mobile power plants, clean wind energy, and turbines.
GE History and Asbestos
GE is a classic American company with a rich history. It all began with the famous inventor Thomas Edison. Edison’s study of electricity led to the birth of multiple electricity companies in the late 1880s.
- Edison created companies that manufactured dynamos and motors, electric light bulbs, and other technologies. The Edison General Electric Company was incorporated in 1889.
- In 1892, the company became the General Electric Company after a merger with the Thomas-Houston Electric Company.
- In 1896, GE was one of the first companies listed on the Dow Jones Industrial Average. GE, no longer on the index, was the only original company to be listed in the 21st century. Financial backing by J.P. Morgan and the Vanderbilt family helped make GE and Edison’s inventions so successful.
- GE acquired many smaller companies, expanding its line of products and services. By 1980, GE was a $25 billion company, one of the world’s largest. It acquired and sold companies as varied as RCA, NBC, CGR Medical Supplies, and Employers Reinsurance. Diversity in its products and services helped make GE successful and profitable.
- General Electric used asbestos in many products over the years. Between the 1960s and about 1996, GE installed over 20,000 turbines across the U.S. that contained asbestos. Many of the company’s products, like steam turbines, required insulation. For decades, insulation for these products contained asbestos.
Although GE faced thousands of lawsuits over asbestos exposure—and continues to face lawsuits—it never filed for bankruptcy. The large size of the company and its diverse product line have saved it from the fate of many other companies that used asbestos.
How Did GE Use Asbestos?
Because GE was involved in so many industries, it is not surprising that it manufactured products with asbestos, which was heavily used by several industries in the middle of the 20th century.
Asbestos is strong, lightweight, and flexible. It also resists heat, fire, electricity, and chemical corrosion. Because of these properties, it was once commonly used in many industrial products and processes, including some that involved GE.
The most important and widespread use of asbestos by GE and other companies was in insulation. Asbestos materials insulated GE’s turbines and other power plant equipment as well as consumer electronics.
General Electric Products That Contained Asbestos
GE manufactured steam turbines with asbestos, as well as a variety of electronic devices, power-generating equipment, furnaces, wires, stovetops, ovens, cables, electrical arc chutes, and plastic molding compounds.
The company also produced products under the brand names Deltabeston and Wil-Son Patent-Flex. Many components in factories under the GE umbrella also contained asbestos, particularly furnaces and insulation.
Who Was Exposed to GE Asbestos Products?
Because of heavy asbestos use, many workers, both those employed by GE and those who worked with GE products, were exposed to asbestos and put at risk of developing mesothelioma, lung cancer, or asbestosis.
General Electric Employees
Workers in GE facilities may have been exposed by handling asbestos that went into products or from asbestos in the facility. The mineral’s small fibers can easily come loose and contaminate the air and settle on nearby surfaces.
Workers who handled asbestos materials were likely exposed, but any other people working in the vicinity could have inhaled asbestos fibers.
Occupations That Used GE Asbestos Products
Other industry workers who used GE products were also put at risk of exposure and subsequent illness. These include:
- Power plant workers
- Shipyard workers
- Construction workers
- Demolition workers
- Maintenance workers
- Machine operators
- U.S. Navy veterans
Secondhand Asbestos Exposure
Families of former GE workers and those in other industries have also suffered asbestos exposure. Many workers brought asbestos fibers home on contaminated clothing before they understood the risks of exposure.
Homeowner Exposure to GE Asbestos Scraps
CBC News and the Toronto Star uncovered evidence that GE sold scrap asbestos materials to workers at a Peterborough, Ontario plant from the 1940s through the 1970s.
Those workers took the asbestos materials to use in their homes, not knowing the risks. GE denies it sold the asbestos scraps but has also been quietly abating homes for residents in the area.
Asbestos Lawsuits Against GE
Many workers in those risky environments later became sick. Many filed asbestos lawsuits against GE, seeking compensation for medical bills, pain and suffering, and shortened lives. GE’s size and profits have helped it survive these expensive lawsuits and avoid bankruptcy.
- In one lawsuit, Arthur Montgomery, a former Port Everglades Power Plant worker, sued GE over asbestos exposure. Montgomery worked with GE turbines and claimed he was exposed to asbestos as a result. He carried asbestos fibers home on his clothes, unknowingly exposing his wife. Montgomery’s wife died from mesothelioma shortly after he filed the suit. Asbestos exposure and damage go beyond those who worked directly with asbestos.
- In another secondhand asbestos exposure lawsuit, Lynda Berry received a jury award of $2.25 million after settling with GE. Berry developed mesothelioma as a result of her husband bringing asbestos fibers home from his paper mill job.
- Shipyard workers and sailors, including U.S. Navy personnel, were among those most at risk of asbestos exposure. In 2007, a former sailor claimed the company failed to warn him that the GE products they used contained asbestos and sued the company. This sailor died of mesothelioma. However, GE never admitted fault for his illness and death.
- In 2001, Howard Plumb received a damages award of $1.47 million from General Electric. The case was decided in a New York Supreme Court Appellate Court. Plumb worked with GE electrical cables with asbestos in the 1940s and was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2000.
What to Do if You Were Exposed to GE Asbestos Products.
GE continues to face lawsuits because of the harm that exposure caused for workers and their loved ones. If you or a family member has mesothelioma and you worked with GE products, contact an asbestos attorney.
An experienced lawyer will review your case for free. They can determine which companies were responsible for your exposure. There are often multiple companies that can be held liable.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
Page Written by Mary Ellen Ellis
Mary Ellen Ellis has been the head writer for Mesothelioma.net since 2016. With hundreds of mesothelioma and asbestos articles to her credit, she is one of the most experienced writers on these topics. Her degrees and background in science and education help her explain complicated medical topics for a wider audience. Mary Ellen takes pride in providing her readers with the critical information they need following a diagnosis of an asbestos-related illness.
Page Edited by Patient Advocate Dave Foster
Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.