The Harbison-Walker Refractories Company used asbestos in fireproof materials for furnaces and boilers. Asbestos exposure led to thousands of lawsuits and expensive settlements. Halliburton, the parent company of Harbison-Walker, formed a multi-billion dollar asbestos trust to handle compensation for victims.
Harbison-Walker Refractory Company changed its name in 2015, becoming HarbisonWalker International. This most recent name change consolidated the company’s multiple brands, including Harbison-Walker Refractories Company, North American Refractories Company, and A.P. Green Refractories Company.
The company currently manufactures refractory products in seventeen locations in North America and two facilities in Indonesia and the United Kingdom.
They provide refractory and fire safety products for a variety of industries, including iron, steel, glass, power, petroleum, and chemicals. None of Harbison-Walker’s products contain asbestos today.
Harbison-Walker History and Asbestos
The original company, called Star Fire Brick Company, was founded in 1865 near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Ten years later, the name was changed to Harbison-Walker Refractories Company.
- Throughout its long history, Harbison-Walker has focused on producing refractory products, a range of materials designed to withstand high-temperature environments. It grew rapidly during the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century when industry demand for furnaces was high.
- Because refractory products are designed to withstand high temperatures, they were long made with asbestos. Harbison-Walker used asbestos for decades.
- In 1967, Dresser Industries, a subsidiary of energy giant Halliburton, acquired Harbison-Walker.
- Harbison-Walker stopped using asbestos in the 1970s, but by then victims had already begun filing claims related to asbestos illnesses.
- Dresser and Halliburton merged in 1998, after which Halliburton was forced to handle hundreds of thousands of lawsuits brought against Harbison-Walker.
- Halliburton and Harbison-Walker filed for bankruptcy in 2001 because of the costs of asbestos lawsuits. Halliburton created an asbestos trust in 2005 and funded it with $5.1 billion.
- Harbison-Walker merged with NARCO and A.P. Green Industries in 2003 and operated as ANH Refractories. In 2015, the name changed to HarbisonWalker International.
In 2022, HarbisonWalker announced it would be acquired by Platinum Equity, an investment firm. Platinum stated that it would continue to grow the business as a leader in refractory materials.
How Did Harbison-Walker Use Asbestos?
As an early refractory company, Harbison-Walker inevitably used asbestos in its products. From the 1900s to the 1970s, asbestos was heavily used in many industries, especially those that involved high-heat environments.
Asbestos naturally resists both heat and fire, making it valuable in refractory products. Companies like Harbison-Walker embedded asbestos in their fireproof materials to make them more effective.
Harbison-Walker Products That Contained Asbestos
At one time, nearly all the products Harbison-Walker made included asbestos. The brand names known to have contained asbestos are:
- Metalkase Firebrick
- Chromepak G
- Harbison-Walker Lightweight Castable
Some of the types of products made under these brands and made with asbestos include:
- Refractory cement
- Asbestos ropes
- Castable cement
- Gunning mix
Who Was at Risk of Asbestos Exposure from Harbison-Walker?
Working with asbestos is dangerous and harmful to human health. Tiny asbestos fibers can easily break off and enter the air. Once airborne, these microscopic fibers can be inhaled where they lodge in tissues, causing damage over time. Some people exposed later develop deadly diseases, including mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis.
Harbison-Walker factory workers were most at risk of asbestos exposure. These workers spent long hours around asbestos with plenty of opportunities for fibers to be disturbed, contaminating the air of the facilities.
Workers in other industries that used Harbison-Walker products also risked exposure, especially those that installed, repaired, or replaced refractory materials. Those at greatest risk worked in:
- Refractory plants
- Steel mills
- Oil refineries
- Chemical plants
- Power plants
- Paper mills
- Stone masonry and bricklaying
- Ships and shipyards
Also at risk of exposure to the asbestos in Harbison-Walker products were family members of exposed workers. Before they knew of the risks, workers might come home with asbestos-contaminated clothing.
There are many cases of wives and children of workers developing mesothelioma after experiencing this type of secondhand exposure.
Asbestos Lawsuits Against Harbison-Walker
It was inevitable that Harbison-Walker and its parent company would face the consequences of their asbestos use. Victims of exposure came forward to claim the company knew the material was harmful to human health but failed to warn them or provide proper safety gear and training.
One of the biggest lawsuits the company faced came just before it entered bankruptcy protection. Five victims of asbestos exposure filed a lawsuit against Harbison-Walker, A.P. Green Industries, another refractory company, and Armstrong Contracting and Supply:
- A pipefitter who died from cancer after years of asbestos exposure on Maryland job sites
- Two pipefitters at Bethlehem Steel who worked with Harbison-Walker products
- A bricklayer who worked with Harbison-Walker asbestos bricks
- A woman who developed an asbestos illness after secondhand exposure through her father, a pipefitter
A jury found the companies liable for the illnesses these people developed. The jury awarded them a $40 million settlement.
Harbison-Walker Bankruptcy and Asbestos Trust
Harbison-Walker is one of many companies that formed an asbestos trust fund to compensate victims of exposure. However, this company’s situation was unique. Most companies formed trusts after going through bankruptcy, often as a condition of bankruptcy protection.
Harbison-Walker formed their trust first before bankruptcy. They did this because they were able to make a deal with the company’s insurance underwriter and company leaders knew they would be facing inevitable claims.
The trust fund was created with billions of dollars to compensate victims. This is a huge amount even by the standards of asbestos claims. A portion of the trust amount, $575 million, came from the insurance company, while the rest came from Halliburton and Harbison-Walker stock and insurance settlements.
The name of the active trust is the DII Industries, LLC Asbestos Personal Injury Trust. The payment perentage for the trust as of 2022 is 60%, much higher than for many other asbestos trust funds. Companies included in the trust are Harbison-Walker, Hallliburgon, Dresser, and Kellogg Brown and Root.
In 2002, following the formation of the trust, Harbison-Walker entered bankruptcy protection. It emerged reorganized in 2003.
If You Were Exposed to Harbison-Walker Asbestos Products
Today, more than 150 years after its founding, the Harbison-Walker continues to make refractory products. While none of their current products contain asbestos, you can still be diagnosed with a related illness if you were exposed years ago.
Contact an asbestos lawyer for a free case review. They can help you make a successful claim for compensation through the trust. They can also determine if other companies are liable for your exposure and if there are other legal options available.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.