Honeywell Heating Specialty Company began over 100 years ago manufacturing water heaters, and through acquisitions, offered other products and services. One of these, a refractory company, led to liability for asbestos exposure, bankruptcy, and the creation of an asbestos trust fund.
Today Honeywell International is a large, Fortune 100 company. In 2015, the company had $40 billion in sales. Honeywell focuses on research and development, as well as manufacturing a number of products and technologies.
The company’s products include software, aerospace technologies, and home and building products like thermostats, security systems, and water purifiers. Honeywell also offers products that support efficient energy use, chemicals, industrial products, and more.
In 1885, Albert Butz developed a furnace alarm. Based on this invention, Butz founded Butz Thermo-Electric Regulator Company the following year.
Butz also invented and sold a device that served as the basis for the modern thermostat. Over several years, the company was sold, acquired other companies, and eventually became the Minneapolis Heat Regulator Company.
In 1904, Mark Honeywell was hard at work developing a heat generator for his business. Honeywell used his designs to found the Honeywell Heating Specialty Company Incorporated in 1906.
In 1927, this company merged with the Minneapolis Heat Regulator Company. The original name of the new company was the Minneapolis-Honeywell Regulator Company.
Over the next several decades, the company continued to innovate, develop new products, and acquire smaller companies to expand the product lineup.
At the same time, the company expanded its geographical reach, opening offices in Europe, South America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and New Zealand. Honeywell’s entry into the computer and software industry began in the 1950s with a partnership with Raytheon Corp.
In 1999, AlliedSignal acquired Honeywell. The company retained the Honeywell name for brand recognition.
AlliedSignal brought several new industries to the company, including chemical manufacturing, oil and gas, aerospace, and a company called North American Refractories Company, or NARCO. Because refractory materials must withstand high temperatures, for many years they were made with asbestos.
Did Honeywell Use Asbestos?
Honeywell may have avoided asbestos controversy if it hadn’t merged with AlliedSignal. AlliedSignal was made up of several divisions and subsidiaries, including some that used asbestos at some point in their histories.
The most significant subsidiary to use asbestos was NARCO. Refractory materials include products like fireproof brick and clothing; materials that must withstand high-temperature environments.
Because asbestos is inexpensive, readily available, and effectively resists heat and fire, it was commonly used in refractory and other industries until the 1970s.
At that point, the harmful effects of asbestos became common knowledge, leading to tougher federal regulations on this common mineral.
Bendix, another company that came with AlliedSignal, also made automotive parts that contained asbestos. Clutch and brake components in particular were manufactured with asbestos to resist heat. These parts are required to withstand a lot of friction, which generates huge amounts of heat. Asbestos helped prevent overheating and fires.
Workers Exposed to Asbestos
Many workers were likely exposed to asbestos because of products made by Honeywell’s NARCO and Bendix companies. Employees that made the refractory products and car parts would have been directly exposed to asbestos in the course of their work; however, they were not the only ones put at risk.
Anyone who worked in industries that used these products would also likely have been exposed to dangerous asbestos. When asbestos is disturbed, its tiny fibers can contaminate air where it can be inhaled by anyone in the area.
Types of workers affected by Honeywell’s products may have included:
- Auto mechanics
- Construction workers
- Factory workers
- Shipbuilders and repair workers
- Maintenance and building repair workers
Shortly after the 1999 acquisition by AlliedSignal, Honeywell became the subject of lawsuits related to asbestos exposure and resulting illnesses.
One of the biggest resulted in a $53.5 million settlement to a victim of asbestos exposure. Stephen Brown, an auto mechanic, died from mesothelioma in 2000.
His widow was awarded the multi-million dollar judgment with the payout coming from several different companies. Because of its connection to Bendix, Honeywell was found to be responsible for just over 2% of the payment. The NARCO division has faced even more lawsuits than Bendix.
Bankruptcy Protection and Trust
Honeywell has not had to file for bankruptcy. As a large company with multiple divisions, only a few of which used asbestos, it has been able to avoid full bankruptcy.
The NARCO division has not fared well. NARCO has faced hundreds of thousands of asbestos claims. In 2002, NARCO entered bankruptcy protection. A reorganization plan was approved in 2007.
This included the formation of an asbestos trust, called the NARCO Asbestos Trust. The trust is currently active and is receiving claims from victims of asbestos exposure.
In 2021, Honeywell began a lawsuit against the trust, claiming mismanagement. It alleges the managers of the fund have wrongly paid claimants and spent too much money on administration. The trust administrators filed a lawsuit against Honeywell claiming the company is trying to get out of an obligation to pay into the fund.
Honeywell has been a successful company for more than 100 years; however, it hit a rough patch when it was acquired by AlliedSignal. The use of asbestos by the NARCO division and Bendix cost the company in the form of thousands of lawsuits. After seeking bankruptcy protection, NARCO was able to reorganize and compensate victims who suffered due to asbestos exposure.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
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.