J.H. France Refractories Company
Founded in the early 1900s, J.H. France was a company that made refractory materials. Refractory materials are often needed in construction and industrial settings to withstand very high temperatures. 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. Also, the company has never created a trust fund to pay settlements to victims of asbestos exposure.
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 that also 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 a number of 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 modern company no longer uses asbestos, but it was commonly used up until federal regulations were implemented in the 1970s restricting 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 were put at risk because they were directly exposed to asbestos. By handling asbestos, they were at risk of inhaling 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 that 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, more lawsuits are being filed.
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 86 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 59 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.
Page Edited by Dave Foster
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