Johns Manville is a large building materials manufacturing company headquartered in Denver, Colorado. Its history dates back nearly 160 years, and the company has been in the business of construction for all that time. Today, Johns Manville is an international company with more than 7,000 workers and 43 manufacturing plants in North America, Europe, and China. Its products go out to companies in more than 85 countries.
Construction has been one of the industries with the biggest use of asbestos, and Johns Manville often led the way in using this mineral in roofing, insulation, and other products that went into buildings. The repercussions of this use of asbestos began to be seen even back in the 1930s as employees began to get sick. Johns Manville filed for bankruptcy and reorganized in 1982 and was the first American company to found an asbestos trust for mesothelioma victims.
About Johns Manville
Johns Manville is a large company with an international presence and a long history of manufacturing many of the components that go into residential, commercial, and industrial buildings. 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, filtration, waterproofing, and energy industries.
The origins of Johns Manville date back to the development by Henry Ward Johns of roofing shingles. In 1858, as a young man, Johns used fabric and tar to create the first modern roofing shingles, a design he then patented along with his insulation products. With these innovative new construction products, he founded the H.W. Johns Manufacturing in New York. In 1901, this company merged with the Manville Covering Company to become the H.W. Johns-Manville Company, renamed the Johns Manville Corporation in 1926.
It was around this time that use of asbestos became more popular and Johns Manville began to use the mineral in many of its products. During World War II, its use of asbestos was particularly heavy and the company was contracted to make asbestos insulation for nearly every ship in the U.S. Navy. This is one of the most important reasons that Navy veterans have some of the highest rates of mesothelioma.
After the war the company expanded to produce more than just asbestos insulation. It soon became one of the leading producers of fiber glass insulation and also produced asbestos cement pipes and PVC pipes, among many other construction materials.
The company also faced difficulties, including the strike by mine workers in Asbestos, Quebec in Canada beginning in 1949. Johns Manville was a part owner of these mines and the workers were striking because of low pay and the poor safety conditions, including asbestos dust. Beginning as early as the 1930s, the company also began to face lawsuits and claims from mine and factory workers who were getting sick with lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other lung diseases.
Johns Manville heavily used asbestos in the manufacturing of its construction products for decades and was even involved in the mining of asbestos. This mineral was used throughout the construction industry before it was realized how harmful it could be to human health, and even for a period after this was well known. One of the main reasons to use asbestos in these materials is that it is an excellent insulator. Insulation for homes, commercial buildings, and industrial applications was one of Johns Manville’s biggest product lines.
Asbestos was also popular in construction materials because it was inexpensive and readily available, could protect against fire, and could resist heat and electricity, and add lightweight and flexible strength to materials. In addition to insulation, Johns Manville used asbestos in wallboard, cement board, floor tiles, roofing materials, adhesives, felt and other cloths, packing seals, electrical products, and asbestos paper. Some of the product brand names with asbestos were Asbestoguard Adhesives, Glasal Flexboard, Insulkote, Permastone, Terraflex, Thermobestos, and Flexstone.
Such heavy use of asbestos in products was bound to cause people to be exposed to the fibers. Workers in Johns Manville asbestos mines were undoubtedly exposed to the airborne fibers in the dust of the mines, as cited by the worker complaints during the 1949 strike. Factory workers who handled the asbestos and made the construction materials were also likely to be exposed to the fibers.
In addition to all of these Johns Manville employees, workers in a variety of industries using their products could also have been exposed. These include U.S. Navy sailors and officers, shipyard workers, carpenters, drywall installers, electricians, plumbers, construction workers, roofers, painters, pipefitters, boiler workers, repair and maintenance workers, and many others. Even people who did not handle asbestos materials, but were in the area during their jobs were put at risk. Working with asbestos can create dust that anyone around might inhale.
It is this dust that contains asbestos fibers that makes exposure to the mineral so dangerous. All these workers who were around asbestos likely inhaled some fibers, and those fibers don’t pass easily through the body. Instead the lodge in tissues, and for reasons not well understood, this causes some people and not others to get very sick decades later.
Litigation over Asbestos
Johns Manville started facing asbestos-related lawsuits earlier than others. The heavy and early use of this may explain the trend, but beginning in the 1920s the company began to get complaints from workers getting sick with lung conditions. The first came in 1929 when eleven employees came together to file a suit against the company, claiming they were not provided with adequate safety training or gear, especially ventilation and masks for the dust. They eventually settled for $30,000.
Another important and early case against Johns Manville was brought by a former boilermaker who testified that most of the insulation he worked with came from Johns Manville. James 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 and settled thousands of lawsuits, costing the company millions.
Bankruptcy and Asbestos Trust Fund
Johns Manville became the largest company in the U.S. to file for bankruptcy protection when it claimed chapter 11 in 1982. At this time it was the largest producer of asbestos materials in the U.S. It took six years for the company to emerge reorganized in 1988, the same year it formed the country’s first asbestos trust, the Manville Personal Injury Settlement Trust. The trust was established with about $2.5 billion.
The model for starting bankruptcy and reorganization along with the foundation of a trust would set the basic procedure for companies that would follow in Johns Manville’s footsteps. 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 and in the way in which asbestos liabilities would be handled by responsible companies. Because of how it approached bankruptcy, all other companies followed suit and there are now many asbestos trusts set up to compensate victims. If you believe you became ill because of Johns Manville products, the trust is still active and you may be able to make a successful claim for compensation.
Page edited by Dave Foster
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