Founded in 1946, Kaiser Aluminum is a company that manufactures highly specialized aluminum products for industries that include automotive and aerospace manufacturing. For several decades, Kaiser used asbestos in some of its products and facilities. Many workers filed lawsuits against the company after developing mesothelioma and other respiratory illnesses, which led to a 2002 bankruptcy and reorganization in 2006.
About Kaiser Aluminum
Kaiser Aluminum produces fabricated aluminum products for industrial applications for the automotive, aerospace, and engineering industries. Some aluminum products the company currently produces are tubs, forge stock, extrusions, sheet, plate, rod, bar, and wire.
The company has headquarters in Foothill Ranch, California, and twelve fabricating facilities throughout North America. Currently, Kaiser Aluminum has more than 2,000 employees.
Kaiser Aluminum Company History
Kaiser Aluminum was founded in 1946 by industrialist Henry Kaiser. Initially, Kaiser began the company by leasing three aluminum refining and manufacturing facilities from the United States government. Eventually, the company purchased the land and facilities.
Kaiser Aluminum grew from there, adding nearly every component of the aluminum industry to its operations. These components included bauxite mining, refining bauxite to produce alumina and aluminum, and fabricating aluminum products.
In addition to making aluminum and aluminum products for industrial applications, Kaiser also made refractory products, insulation, and other construction-related products, many with asbestos
Asbestos was commonly used to insulate materials, especially refractory materials, from high heat. It was also used extensively in construction products for its ability to insulate and add strength and durability.
Today Kaiser Aluminum no longer mines or refines aluminum, nor does it make refractory and construction materials; instead, the company is focused on developing and making high-quality aluminum products. In addition to components for engineering, automotive, and aerospace applications, Kaiser also makes custom aluminum products.
The processing of aluminum does not directly involve asbestos; however, the refining process does require extremely high temperatures. Equipment used in refining was commonly made with asbestos to help insulate the materials and protect workers from heat and fire.
Asbestos is inexpensive, abundant, and is efficient at insulating and resisting high temperatures. These factors made asbestos a natural choice for use in high-temperature applications like refining bauxite to make aluminum.
Kaiser Aluminum also used asbestos in some of its non-aluminum products. For many years, the company made refractory and construction materials with asbestos in them. Some of these products include:
- Block castable insulation
- Fire bricks
- Furnace castable insulating cement
- Mineral wool cement
- Hardtop finishing cement
- Siding board
- Wall panels
- Asbestos fibers
Occupational Asbestos Exposure
Working with or around asbestos is now known to be hazardous to human health. The small fibers of this mineral can become exposed and easily flake off to become dust that floats in the air and settles on surfaces.
When workers inhale or ingest those fibers, they become lodged in the body, doing damage to organs and tissues over time. Some people will get very sick as a result, eventually developing asbestos lung cancer, mesothelioma, or asbestosis.
Many different workers risked asbestos exposure because of Kaiser Aluminum:
- Workers in refining facilities were at risk of exposure from the materials in the equipment they used.
- Those who made materials with asbestos in them were also at serious risk.
- Workers in other industries that used Kaiser asbestos products may also have been exposed. Those at risk of exposure include construction workers, auto mechanics, and aerospace workers.
- People in the United States Navy who worked aboard naval ships supplied with fireproof wallboard by Kaiser are also at risk.
It was only a matter of time before Kaiser began to see lawsuits over asbestos and mesothelioma. It takes decades for these serious diseases to manifest. Once those exposed to asbestos through Kaiser products became ill, the company was overwhelmed with compensation claims.
One example of an asbestos lawsuit filed against Kaiser involved a man who worked in a refinery and a paper mill. This man eventually died from mesothelioma, a jury awarded his widow nearly $40,000 to be paid by Kaiser as well as settlements from other asbestos companies.
Bankruptcy and Asbestos Trust Fund
By 2001, the number of asbestos-related lawsuits against Kaiser numbered in the thousands. The company could no longer handle payments or the costs of defending itself against claims. As a result, Kaiser entered bankruptcy protection in 2002.
The company emerged in 2006 as a reorganized company. As part of the protection deal, the company was required to set up an asbestos trust to compensate future victims. The Kaiser Asbestos Trust opened in 2006, funded with $1.2 billion. This trust remains active and is currently accepting claims.
Kaiser Aluminum has paid the price for its past asbestos use, and the trust is still paying out for valid claims. If you believe your illness is related to asbestos exposure caused by Kaiser, you can file a claim for compensation. If you are not sure how to proceed, contact a mesothelioma lawyer to assist you.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
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.