Kaiser Aluminum is currently a company that makes highly specialized and quality aluminum products for industries that include automotive and aerospace. In the past it used vertical integration and was involved in every aspect of aluminum, from mining bauxite, to refining it, to making the actual aluminum products. Founded in 1946, the company today is more focused but still successful in the manufacturing industry.
For several decades, Kaiser used asbestos in some of its products and also in its refining facilities for its insulating and high-heat resistant properties. That use of asbestos led to some workers getting sick with mesothelioma and other respiratory illnesses and eventually filing lawsuits against the company. Those lawsuits led to the 2002 bankruptcy and reorganization in 2006.
About Kaiser Aluminum
Kaiser Aluminum is a company that produces fabricated aluminum products for industrial applications that include the automotive, aerospace, and engineering industries, as well as custom industries. Some of the aluminum products the company currently offers are tubs, forge stock, extrusions, sheet, plate, rod, bar, and wire. The company has its headquarters in Foothill Ranch, California and has 12 facilities fabricating aluminum products throughout North America. There are more than 2,000 employees currently working for Kaiser Aluminum.
Kaiser Aluminum Company History
The company was founded in 1946 by industrialist Henry Kaiser. He began the company by initially leasing three aluminum refining and manufacturing facilities from the U.S. government, but eventually the company was able to purchase the land and facilities. The company then grew from there, adding nearly every component of the aluminum industry to its operations: bauxite mining, refining bauxite to produce alumina and aluminum, and the fabricating of aluminum products.
In addition to making aluminum and aluminum products for industrial applications, Kaiser Aluminum made refractory products, those designed to withstand very high temperatures, insulation, and other construction related products. Many of these products outside of the aluminum production contained asbestos. This is because asbestos was commonly used to insulate materials, especially refractory materials, from high heat, and in construction products for its ability to insulate and add strength and durability.
Today, Kaiser Aluminum is much more focused and no longer mines or refines aluminum, nor does it make refractory and construction materials. It 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, nor do the materials made from aluminum. However, the refining process does require extremely high temperatures. The equipment used to do the work was made with asbestos to help insulate the materials and to protect workers from heat and fire. Asbestos is inexpensive and abundant and has long been known to be efficient at insulating and resisting high temperatures. These factors made it a natural choice for use in high-temperature applications like refining bauxite to make aluminum.
Kaiser Aluminum also used asbestos in the manufacturing of some of its non-aluminum products. For many years it made refractory materials and construction materials with asbestos in them. Some of these products include block castable insulation, fire bricks, furnace castable insulating cement, mineral wool cement, hard top finishing cement, insulation, and siding board and wall panels. Kaiser even sold asbestos fibers for a limited period of time.
Occupational Asbestos Exposure
Working directly with or even just around asbestos and materials that contain asbestos is now known to be hazardous to human health. The small fibers that make up asbestos minerals can become exposed and easily flake off to become part of the dust in the air and on surfaces. When workers inhale or ingest those fibers, instead of passing through the body, they get stuck in tissues and organs. Some people will get very sick as a result of this, eventually getting diagnosed with asbestos lung cancer, mesothelioma, or asbestosis.
Many different workers were put at risk of being exposed to asbestos because of its use by Kaiser Aluminum. Workers in the refining facilities were at risk of exposure from the materials in the equipment they used. Those who made the materials with asbestos in them were also at serious risk. Other workers, in other industries, that used Kaiser asbestos products were also likely to have been exposed. These include construction workers, auto mechanics, aerospace workers, and those in the U.S. Navy who worked aboard the many naval ships that were supplied with fireproof wall board by Kaiser.
It was only a matter of time before Kaiser began to see lawsuits from former employees and workers in other industries over asbestos and mesothelioma. It generally takes decades for these illnesses to manifest, but once they did, the company was overwhelmed with claims for compensation. One example of an asbestos lawsuit filed against Kaiser involved the death of a man who worked in a refinery and later a paper mill and eventually developed mesothelioma. His widow was awarded nearly $40,000 to be paid by Kaiser as well as more settlements from other asbestos companies.
Bankruptcy and Asbestos Trust Fund
By 2001 the number of asbestos-related lawsuits against Kaiser numbered in the thousands and the company was no longer able to handle the payments or the cost of defending itself against claims. As a result, Kaiser entered bankruptcy protection in 2002 and 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 Aluminum and Chemical Corporation Asbestos Personal Injury Trust opened in 2006, and it was funded with $1.2 billion. It is still active and accepting claims.
Kaiser Aluminum has paid the price, as have so many other companies, for the use of asbestos in the past. The trust is still paying out for valid claims, so if you believe that your illness is related to asbestos exposure caused by Kaiser, you can file a claim for compensation and to get a sense of justice for being exposed to something so harmful without being warned of the risks. If you aren’t sure how to proceed, contact a mesothelioma lawyer to assist you.
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