International Paper is the largest paper and pulp manufacturing company in the world and is headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee, with over 55,000 employees around the world. The history of the company dates back more than 100 years to a time when paper was becoming more common and several mills were merged together to create International Paper.
The paper industry is one of many that used asbestos for a variety of purposes, decades ago. International Paper is no exception, and as such a large company its liability over asbestos illnesses is also large. The company has faced lawsuits, but has been able to get some dismissed and others settled without needing to go into bankruptcy or face the formation of an asbestos trust to settle claims.
About International Paper
International Paper is a large, international, U.S.-based company that makes pulp and paper products. The company today is driven by creating innovative products, using wood from sustainable forests, and striving to protect the environment while still using it to make paper and pulp products. In 2016 the company had a total revenue of $21 billion, which mostly came from industrial packaging, followed by paper, consumer packaging, and cellulose fibers. The company’s stated mission is to be successful, environmentally sustainable, and socially responsible.
The history of this large company dates back earlier than 1898, but it was in that year that 18 existing paper mills operating in the northeastern U.S. came together to create International Paper. The new company produced the vast majority of newsprint in its early years, a time when the newspaper industry was at a peak. The newly-formed International Paper took advantage of the need for newsprint and grew into a large and successful manufacturer.
In its early years, International Paper not only made pulp and paper, but also generated the power used by the mills. These power plants lasted until the U.S. government outlawed companies having both an industrial business and a public utility, like power. Focusing only on pulp and paper from that point forward, International Paper expanded its product line and spread into other parts of the country with more mills and by acquiring more companies.
The company continued to be successful throughout World War II, when it developed important products for the war effort, and in the succeeding decades. It wasn’t until the 1970s when the company stopped growing and actually had to shutter some of its mills. Today, even after facing lawsuits over asbestos exposure, International Paper continues to thrive and grow.
Asbestos Use in Paper Mills
Like many industries in the decades before the U.S. government put restrictions on its use, asbestos was important to the paper industry and to International Paper for many years. As a natural mineral that can be mined, asbestos was readily available. It also has several properties that make it useful in a number of industries, including paper manufacturing. These include heat and fire resistance, lightweight strength, electrical resistance, and chemical resistance.
For making paper and pulp, products which are highly flammable, the ability to prevent fire and its spread is crucial. Asbestos was used throughout the construction of paper mills to stop or slow the spread of fires. Insulation, walls, flooring, roofing, and other materials in these mills often contained asbestos. There was also likely to be asbestos in the boiler area of the mills, in components, pipes, and insulation. The power plants that the company initially operated also used asbestos in insulation, gaskets, seals, valves, and other parts.
International Paper also has a connection to an asbestos-containing product through companies it acquired. When it bought out Champion International in 2000, the company took on potential liability for a product called Micarta, a countertop material that was made with asbestos. This material was largely used in shipyards.
The Hudson River Mill
One of International Paper’s early and most important mills was the Hudson River Mill in Corinth, New York. It was built in 1869 and was the first mill to create newsprint in the U.S. As such, it was crucial in the development and innovation in making new pulp and paper products. The mill continued to be important for the company well into the twentieth century and used a lot of asbestos. As one of the larger mills in the company, it may have been responsible for a majority of the cases of mesothelioma and other illnesses claimed by former workers.
Asbestos Exposure in Workers
International Paper employees, working in the early power plants and then in the paper mills that contained so much asbestos, were put at risk of being exposed to harmful asbestos fibers. Although the products made in the mills did not contain asbestos, the buildings were full of it and people there had to work around it every day. If any of the asbestos became disturbed, through maintenance, repairs, or just wear and tear over the years, the fibers could have come loose, entering the air and dust and causing workers to inhale them.
Those who were most at risk of exposure were maintenance workers, boiler workers, mechanics, and anyone who had to repair or maintain parts of the building that were made with asbestos. Also at risk of asbestos exposure because of International Paper were shipyard workers who worked with and around the Micarta countertop materials made by Champion International.
International Paper has been able to survive lawsuits brought against it related to asbestos exposure and related illness. As compared to some other industries, the use of asbestos in paper making was limited. However, the company has faced claims from workers who say they were exposed to asbestos o the job and got sick as a result, often with the deadly cancer called pleural mesothelioma.
Workers have brought suits in their own names, citing exposure in International Paper’s paper mills for their cancer diagnoses, but sometimes also for their loved ones. One case that International Paper managed to get dismissed involved the wife of a former mill worker. He claimed that he carried home asbestos fibers on his clothing and that this caused his wife to develop mesothelioma. A judge dismissed the case based on the company’s claim that they did not foresee the harm the asbestos might cause.
While cases have been dismissed, others have been successful and International Paper has been called to account for the harm it caused with the extensive use of asbestos in its mills and power plants. If you worked for this company or in another paper mill and you later got sick with asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma, you may have a case to make against your former employer. You can contact a mesothelioma lawyer to help you make your case and to argue on your behalf for adequate compensation.
Page edited by Dave Foster
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