J.T. Thorpe and Son, Inc.
Currently the largest refractory contractor in the country, J.T. Thorpe and Son, or JTT, has a long history in developing and manufacturing refractory materials and products for a variety of industries. These are products that must be designed to withstand very high temperatures, such as those in foundries and furnaces. For many years, companies like JTT used asbestos to make these heat-resistant materials.
As a result of decades of asbestos use in the manufacturing process, workers for JTT and for other companies that used their products may have been exposed to harmful asbestos fibers. Many workers who got sick with asbestos-related illnesses like mesothelioma, have brought lawsuits against JTT. There were so many of these brought against the company that it was forced into bankruptcy and the creation of a trust to compensate valid claimants.
About J.T. Thorpe
J.T. Thorpe and Son, Inc. is a company that dates back more than 100 years. Today it is the largest refractory consulting company in the country, in spite of the challenges it faced as victims of asbestos exposure brought millions of dollars of lawsuits to the company. Headquarters for JTT are in San Francisco, and there are eight other offices and more than 700 employees around the U.S. JTT provides a range of services, including engineering and manufacturing refractory products, determining the refractory needs for a company, and installing the products.
J.T. Thorpe began operations in 1906 in San Francisco, just after the great earthquake and subsequent fires that devastated the city. The company originally did commercial work, but beginning in 1908 manufactured and installed large furnaces for industrial settings. The first such job JTT did was for Standard Oil in Richmond, California. From there the company expanded its work to other industrial sites, including power plants, refineries, and large ships, all in the San Francisco Bay area.
The company had plenty of work in Northern California, and for decades it rarely expanded out of this region. Much of the business up until the 1980s was working on refineries in the area. Finally, by the 1990s JTT began to diversify and grow. The company expanded geographically, first to Southern California, and then to Arizona and Utah. Eventually JTT came to operate all over the country and abroad, providing refractory products, installation, maintenance, and consulting in all kinds of industrial settings.
Asbestos Use by JTT
Asbestos is a natural mineral that was mined for decades to be used in all kinds of industries. It was abundantly used for many years in the early- and mid-twentieth century before researchers, doctors, and others finally pieced together the evidence that asbestos was killing people. Before this discovery was made, asbestos was used to make industrial products because it could add lightweight strength to materials, add fireproofing and heat resistance, and it was inexpensive and abundant.
The refractory business, making furnaces, boilers, and fireproof materials as JTT did, involved heavy use of asbestos because it is so efficient at resisting heat and fire and making materials strong enough to withstand high temperatures. The fireproof bricks and other materials that JTT made contained a lot of asbestos. Today the company makes its products without asbestos, but for decades this harmful mineral was a crucial part of the recipe.
Asbestos Exposure in Workers and Others
Asbestos is so harmful to humans because the tiny fibers that make up this mineral can become lodged in tissues inside the body and cause the damage that over decades leads to devastating and deadly illnesses like mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis. The big problem with working with and around asbestos is that these very small fibers can easily flake off and contaminate the air and dust in a work space. Without the right protective gear, workers inhale and ingest these fibers.
The workers who made JTT products during the asbestos years were at serious risk of exposure to the fibers. They may also have contaminated their homes and put their families at risk by bringing fibers home on their clothing. Working with and directly handling the asbestos was risky, but workers in other industries who had to work around the asbestos-containing materials installed by JTT also may have inhaled the harmful fibers. Workers like boilermakers, steamfitters, pipefitters, maintenance and repair workers, foundry workers, and others who worked in the high-temperature environments where refractory products were used, were most at risk.
Numerous ships, especially in the Bay Area, had work done by JTT and had components and refractory materials made by the company during the years that it used asbestos. This means that ship workers are among the many people who JTT put at risk of asbestos exposure and illness. Among these were U.S. Naval workers, officers and sailors who many years later developed mesothelioma or lung cancer. Those who worked around the boilers on ships were at the greatest risk.
Lawsuits, Bankruptcy, and Asbestos Trust Fund
Because of the heavy use of asbestos in products, it was inevitable that JTT would be accused by past workers of exposing them to the mineral and for causing them to get sick later. As the lawsuits rolled in JTT struggled to defend the company and to cover the costs of the compensation demanded. As a result the company had to file for bankruptcy and reorganize under this legal protection, which it did in 2002.
JTT emerged from bankruptcy in 2006, reorganized and ready to get back to work. As a requirement of the bankruptcy, JTT was required to start a trust that would compensate future victims coming forward with asbestos claims. The company set up the J.T. Thorpe Settlement Trust in 2006 with over $150 million. This allowed the company to go forward under reorganization and continue operating as an asbestos-free refractory consultant.
Asbestos used in refractory materials has caused untold harm to workers and their families. Thanks to trust funds that companies like JTT were forced to set up, many of those victims are receiving the compensation they deserve and are owed. The compensation is to help cover medical costs, but also to make up for the illness that these workers should never have had to suffer with.
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