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North American Refractories Company (NARCO)

For 50 years, North American Refractories Company, also known as NARCO, made high-quality asbestos refractory materials for extreme, high-temperature industries. The company continued to make these products after being acquired by Honeywell in 1979, but it eventually stopped using asbestos. Today, NARCO is a subsidiary of HarbisonWalker International, recently known as ANH Refractories.

Decades after using asbestos in its products, NARCO began to face lawsuits from former employees and workers in other industries. Thousands of lawsuits related to asbestos and the illnesses it causes, including mesothelioma, flooded the company, leading to bankruptcy protection. Eventually the division also formed an asbestos trust, funded by more than $6 billion to help pay claims brought by asbestos exposure victims.


Today NARCO is a division of HarbisonWalker International, which until recently was called ANH Refractories. Although it has not been an independent company since 1979, NARCO still exists as a subsidiary and still makes refractory products, those materials that are used in high-temperature industries and settings. The industries currently served by NARCO and HarbisonWalker products include steel, chemicals, incineration, aluminum, lime, paper and pulp, power, glass, and petroleum.

Company History

NARCO was founded in Cleveland, Ohio in 1929 as a company that made refractory cement. This was special cement designed to withstand very high temperatures, like those in furnaces and boilers. The company grew quickly, acquired other smaller companies, and expanded its refractory products to include ceramics, coatings, hearths, and stove fittings.

In 1979 the company was acquired by Honeywell and over the next decade NARCO products were in demand, especially in the steel industry in the Midwest and Northeast. As the company grew over the years, it opened up multiple factories for manufacturing refractory products. There were facilities in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Indiana, and Kentucky.

NARCO made refractory materials during a time when asbestos use was prevalent in many industries. Because of using asbestos for so many years, the company faced lawsuits, beginning in the 1980s, over related illnesses, including asbestos lung cancer, mesothelioma, and lung scarring called asbestosis. The number of lawsuits eventually became great enough that the company, at the time a division of ANH Refractories, was forced to file for bankruptcy.

NARCO Products Made with Asbestos

Asbestos use was heavy in the refractory industry for many decades because this unique mineral has the ability to add strength to materials and to resist high temperatures. It is an excellent insulator and helps to protect materials, making them more durable, and workers from high heats. It also prevents heat from being lost from furnaces and similar equipment. Much of the asbestos use occurred before anyone realized how harmful it could be to human health, but even after this was known, many companies continued to use it.

At NARCO, asbestos went into nearly every product the company made. Because their products, although numerous, were all refractory in nature, they all included some amount of asbestos to protect and strengthen against very high temperatures. Some of the specific NARCO products known to have contained asbestos include Aerogun, Unicote, Narcocrete, Narcogun, Gun Mix, Narcolite, Narcmag, and Stazon.

Workers Affected by Asbestos

Asbestos was initially used to protect materials in high-temperature environments, but also to protect people from heat, burns, and fire. Unfortunately, it was later discovered that inhaling or ingesting the small fibers that make up asbestos could be deadly. Not everyone who inhales the fibers will get sick, but some do decades later. Workers that made the NARCO refractory materials in the company factories were particularly at risk of being exposed to the fibers from the asbestos they handled or worked close to on the job. The fibers become harmful when small pieces break off of asbestos, a common occurrence when it is being handled.

It was not only NARCO employees that were at risk of asbestos exposure, though. Many more workers were in danger when they used or worked with or near NARCO products in various industries. These include workers in power plants, oil refineries, steel refineries, aluminum plants, chemical plants, incinerators, paper factories, and many other industries that involve furnaces, hearths, and boilers.

Asbestos Litigation

The decades of use of asbestos caused a lot of workers in various industries to get sick. Those workers, and in some cases their widows or widowers, sought justice and compensation by suing NARCO. By the time these lawsuits began flooding in NARCO was already a part of Honeywell. Both the parent company and the division faced liability for the illnesses these people suffered. Even today, more lawsuits are possible, and HarbisonWalker is likely to be liable for them.

By the time the NARCO division filed for bankruptcy it was facing nearly 300,000 lawsuits over asbestos exposure. Some of these were very costly, such as one brought by five plaintiffs together. They were awarded $130 million by a jury, to be paid by NARCO and another company. Another jury found that a plaintiff, a former pipefitter diagnosed with mesothelioma, was owed more than $6 million.

Bankruptcy and Asbestos Trust

As recently as 2009, NARCO was estimated to have $1 billion in asbestos liability. Because of the many lawsuits and the high cost of the liability over asbestos use, NARCO was forced to file for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2002. It reorganized and was back in business in 2008, but this did not end the costs of past asbestos exposure. Lawsuits continued and in 2013 the ANH division began an asbestos trust to help pay claims from victims. The trust was funded with over $6 billion and was paying out more than $100 million in its first year.

Because asbestos illnesses like mesothelioma take so many decades to manifest and result in a diagnosis, claims against NARCO are still ongoing. If you feel that NARCO products played any role in your illness related to asbestos, you can currently file a claim with the NARCO asbestos trust. To help you maximize your chances of a successful claim, be sure to work with an experienced asbestos or mesothelioma lawyer. This legal professional has the expertise to ensure that you have a real claim and that it will win you the compensation you deserve and need.

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