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Johns Manville is a large building materials manufacturing company headquartered in Denver, Colorado. This international company employs more than 7,000 workers and operates more than 43 manufacturing plants in North America, Europe, and China. Its products are shipped to companies in more than 85 countries.
Construction is an industry that once used large amounts of asbestos, and Johns Manville often led the way in using this mineral in roofing, insulation, and other building products. The repercussions of asbestos use were seen as far back as the 1930s when employees began getting sick. Johns Manville filed for bankruptcy and reorganized in 1982. It was also the first American company to found an asbestos trust for mesothelioma victims.
About Johns Manville
Johns Manville is a large international company with a long history of manufacturing residential, industrial, and commercial building materials. Currently, the company has 43 manufacturing facilities where workers make insulation, roofing, glass fiber, and nonwoven materials. In addition to construction, these products are used in the automotive, aerospace, waterproofing, filtration, and energy industries.
In 1858, Henry Ward Johns used fabric and tar to create the first modern roofing shingles. He patented the design along with several insulation products. With these innovative construction products, Johns founded H.W. Johns Manufacturing. In 1901, this New York based company merged with Manville Covering Company to become the H.W. Johns-Manville Company. In 1926, the company was renamed the Johns Manville Corporation.
Asbestos use became more common around this time, and Johns Manville used this mineral extensively in many of its products. During World War II, the company was contracted to make asbestos insulation for nearly every ship in the United States Navy. This is one of the key reasons that Navy veterans have such high rates of mesothelioma.
The company expanded to produce more than asbestos insulation after the war. Johns Manville became a leading producer of fiber glass insulation. The company also produced asbestos cement pipes and PVC pipes, as well as many other construction materials.
Johns Manville also faced a number of difficulties, including a 1949 strike of mine workers in Asbestos, Quebec in Canada. The company was part owner of these mines, and workers were striking because of low pay and poor safety conditions. One major concern of the miners was asbestos dust. Beginning in the 1930s, the company also began facing lawsuits and claims from mine and factory workers who developed lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other lung diseases.
For decades, Johns Manville used asbestos in its construction products and was even involved in asbestos mining. Asbestos was used extensively in the construction industry before its hazards to human health were fully realized. Asbestos was commonly used in construction because it is an excellent insulator. One of John Mansville’s biggest product lines was insulation for homes, industrial applications and commercial buildings.
Asbestos was also popular in construction materials because it was readily available and inexpensive. It also protects against fire, is lightweight and flexible, and resists heat and electricity. In addition to insulation, Johns Manville used asbestos in wallboard, cement board, roofing materials, floor tiles, adhesives, felt and other cloths, electrical products, packing seals, and asbestos paper. Some of the product brand names with asbestos were Asbestoguard Adhesives, Glasal Flexboard, Permastone, Terraflex, Insulkote, Thermobestos, and Flexstone.
Heavy asbestos usage was bound to lead to asbestos exposure. Workers in Johns Manville asbestos mines were likely exposed to the airborne asbestos fibers in the mines. During the 1949 strike, workers cited in complaints that they were exposed to airborne fibers. Factory workers who handled asbestos and made construction materials were also likely exposed to asbestos fibers.
In addition to Johns Manville employees, workers in industries that used their products could also have been exposed. These include Navy sailors and officers, shipyard workers, drywall installers, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, roofers, painters, construction workers, pipefitters, boiler workers, and maintenance workers. Even people who did not directly handle asbestos materials were put at risk. Working with asbestos can create dust that anyone in the area could potentially inhale.
Airborne asbestos fibers is what is dangerous to human health. Tiny, needle-like fibers of asbestos can float as dust and can easily be inhaled or ingested. Once inside the body, fibers do not pass easily through the body. Instead they lodge in tissues. For reasons not well understood, these fibers cause some people to develop serious illnesses decades later.
Litigation over Asbestos
Johns Manville faced asbestos-related lawsuits earlier than many other companies. This trend can be explained by the early and extensive use of this dangerous mineral. Beginning in the 1920s, Johns Manville began to receive complaints from workers getting sick with lung conditions. The first complaint was filed in 1929 by eleven employees who claimed they were not provided adequate safety gear or training. They eventually settled for $30,000.
Another important case against Johns Manville was brought by a former boilermaker. James Cavett testified that most of the insulation he worked with came from Johns Manville. Cavett developed asbestosis after his 40-year career, and eventually died from asbestos lung cancer. His widow carried on his case and was eventually awarded over $2 million. By the early 1980s, Johns Manville had faced thousands of lawsuits, costing the company millions.
Bankruptcy and Asbestos Trust Fund
In 1982, Johns Manville became the largest US company to file for bankruptcy. At the time, it was the largest producer of asbestos materials in the United States. The company emerged reorganized in 1988. That same year, Johns Manville formed the country’s first asbestos trust, the Manville Personal Injury Settlement Trust. The trust was established with approximately $2.5 billion.
Johns Manville became a model for starting bankruptcy and reorganization with the foundation of a trust. A direct result of the Johns Manville bankruptcy was a new law passed by Congress that required companies with large asbestos claims to provide a trust fund as a component of bankruptcy protection.
Johns Manville was a leader in several ways, including the heavy use of asbestos in products. Also, Johns Manville also paved the way for how asbestos liabilities would be handled by responsible companies. Because of its approach to bankruptcy, other companies have followed suit. The result is numerous asbestos trusts set up to compensate victims. If you believe you became ill because of Johns Manville products, the trust is still active. You can speak with a qualified asbestos attorney to help you make a successful claim for compensation.
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.