Founded in the early 1900s, J.H. France Refractories Company made materials designed to withstand extremely high temperatures, often with asbestos. Today, the Pennsylvania-based company is known as Snowshoe Refractories, Incorporated. Although it faced many lawsuits over the years for asbestos exposure, it never went into bankruptcy and never started an asbestos trust fund.
J.H. France Today
The J.H. France name was eventually retired. Today the company, which still makes refractory products, is called Snowshoe. Based in Snowshoe, Pennsylvania, J.H. France likely changed names to distance itself from lawsuits from asbestos illnesses.
Refractory materials include all types of materials, including cement, fabrics, and bricks. These materials must be able to stand up to very high temperatures. Because of this, refractory products once contained large amounts of asbestos.
Today the Snowshoe Company focuses on a wide variety of firebricks, none of which contain asbestos. They also provide fire-resistant mortars, castables, and plastics. Their bricks are designed to withstand temperatures up to 3100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Today’s Snowshoe began more than 100 years ago as the J.H. France Refractories Company. Founded in the 1900s, the company has always manufactured refractory products. Originally the company was headquartered in Long Island, New York.
Over the years, the company acquired other businesses, adding to its product lineup. Most of these products contained asbestos. Acquired companies, including the Van Brunt Company, which manufactured a type of asbestos cement, used high amounts of harmful asbestos.
Asbestos in J.H France Products
Before the health risks of asbestos were fully understood, many industries relied on it to make products and materials. Asbestos is inexpensive and readily available since it is easily mined from the ground.
It also has several unique properties that make it useful in a variety of industries. Asbestos is strong, durable, and resists heat, electricity, fire, and chemical reactions.
Asbestos was necessary for refractory products like those made by J.H. France. For decades, materials that needed to withstand high temperatures were made with asbestos.
Companies like J.H. France relied on this mineral to make fire bricks, high-temperature cement, castables, fireproof fabrics, and safety gear. The company stopped using asbestos around 1972, as federal regulations were implemented to restrict its use.
These legal restrictions were enacted because asbestos can be harmful to human health, but it was apparent long before the 1970s that asbestos was dangerous.
Because of the advantages of asbestos, it took years before employers stopped putting workers at risk. Many did not make changes until forced by regulations set by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Employees who manufactured J.H. France refractory materials risked direct asbestos exposure. By handling asbestos, they could have inhaled the mineral’s loose fibers.
Once inhaled, these tiny fibers become lodged in the body’s tissues. For some, this leads to damage over many years, ultimately causing illnesses like lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis, a progressive scarring of the lungs.
Workers also put family members at risk because they brought asbestos fibers home on their clothing. In addition to J.H. France employees and their families, people working in other industries that used their products were also potentially exposed to asbestos.
This includes workers who installed, maintained, and repaired boilers and furnaces, a major setting for refractory products. Foundry workers, construction workers, masons, and others were also put at serious risk.
Asbestos-related illnesses like mesothelioma do not typically appear until decades after exposure; therefore, companies like J.H. France did not see lawsuits until many years after they used asbestos. As older, retired workers begin to develop diseases like mesothelioma and lung cancer, companies face more asbestos lawsuits.
One case against J.H. France came in 2012. This lawsuit was filed by Roscoe Peters, an electrician who worked in a steel plant. Peters and his wife brought a lawsuit against eighty-six defenders, all companies that made asbestos-containing materials, including J.H. France. Peters worked in the steel plant from 1950 to 1983.
Another lawsuit brought against multiple defendants, including J.H. France, was filed in 2012. The plaintiff was fifty-nine-year-old Klingensmith. Klingensmith claimed he was exposed to asbestos while working as a brick cutter and a metal fabricator. He claimed this exposure led to his mesothelioma.
Although J.H. France has faced numerous similar lawsuits, the company never filed for bankruptcy protection. It also never set up an asbestos trust fund to compensate victims; instead, J.H. France has defended itself against lawsuits and ultimately became a new company.
Snowshoe Incorporated continues to manufacture fire-proof and refractory materials; however, the company no longer uses asbestos.
Many people suffered because of asbestos use in many industries. For many, the refractory industry was a big contributor to asbestos exposure. While J.H. France was able to avoid bankruptcy, it did not survive lawsuits unscathed. Today the company continues to be successful, operating under a new name.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
Page Written by Mary Ellen Ellis
Mary Ellen Ellis has been the head writer and editor 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.
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