Owens Corning is a large company that makes and sells insulation and other construction materials with nearly 100 factories worldwide. Over decades of asbestos use in insulation, Owens Corning put thousands of people at risk of developing mesothelioma. Lawsuits forced the company into bankruptcy and the formation of an asbestos trust fund.
Owens-Corning Fiberglass Company was created in 1935 from the merger of two existing glassworks companies: Owens-Illinois and Corning Glass Works. By 1938 the newly formed company already had sales of over $2 million.
The name Owens-Corning Fiberglass stuck until 1996, when it was officially shortened to just Owens Corning, reflecting its growth beyond just fiberglass insulation.
Owens Corning succeeded because it made effective and affordable insulation that quickly became popular with homeowners and builders. The demand for the product was exceptionally high during the housing boom following World War II.
By 1952 Owens Corning was ready to go public, expanding its product offerings to include several materials for the construction industry.
The company hit a rough patch in the 1980s during a slowdown in construction and new homebuilding. Owens Corning also fought off a hostile takeover by taking on a lot of debt. It then faced thousands of lawsuits over asbestos.
The harm caused by the asbestos used for decades in insulation caught up with the company, and it had to file for bankruptcy. Because it bought another construction materials company called Fibreboard, which also used asbestos, it took on even more liability.
Owens Corning Asbestos Use in Products
The use of asbestos in insulation was not unusual when Owens Corning included it in fiberglass products. Asbestos is a cheap and common natural mineral with several important properties:
- Asbestos is an excellent insulator.
- It retains heat in a building or cold in refrigeration storage.
- It resists fire and adds fireproofing to materials.
- It also adds durability to materials without much extra weight.
Owens Corning used asbestos in many of its products, but mostly in insulation. One brand made with asbestos was Kaylo. Kaylo pipe insulation, duct insulation, insulating block, roof tiles, laminated panels, and equipment insulation were all made using asbestos.
The company also made cement, called One Cote cement, which had asbestos in it. Wall insulation, asbestos adhesives, and mastics, and fiberglass blankets also included asbestos.
When Owens Corning acquired Fibreboard, it took on liability for all its asbestos products: pipe covering, insulating cement, paper insulation, roof paint, floor coating, roofing felt, gypsum board, insulating tape, and others.
Asbestos was long a useful material, but when people were exposed to it, they often inhaled its tiny fibers and got very sick. Decades after exposure, a person may develop mesothelioma, lung cancer, or asbestosis, all deadly diseases.
Workers in Owens Corning factories were at particular risk of exposure. Handling asbestos can cause fibers to come loose and enter the air. Anyone in the facility could have inhaled those fibers or even carried them home on clothing, putting family at risk as well.
Any workers in other industries who used asbestos products or worked around Owens Corning materials that contained asbestos were also at risk. Those most affected by the company’s asbestos products were workers in the construction industry, who handled the materials, like roofers or insulation installers.
Any construction workers on a site, including electricians, carpenters, plumbers, drywall workers, and others, were at risk of inhaling dust containing asbestos fibers and getting sick later. Because the company also made pipe insulation, pipefitters and similar workers were also at risk.
Litigation over Asbestos
After workers began to get sick because of the asbestos in Owens Corning and Fibreboard products, they sued the company over its use of asbestos and failure to warn people of its risks. The lawsuits came early, with the first in 1978.
Two workers from a shipyard developed asbestosis and blamed it on pipe insulation used on ships and the asbestos used in other insulation materials. The two men filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of workers. Owens Corning was one of several defendants in the case.
In another case, a man sued the company after being diagnosed with mesothelioma from working with Owens Corning products for decades. In the course of the trial, lawyers showed that Owens Corning hid information about the harmful effects of asbestos while the material was still used in its products. The jury decided on $31 million in punitive damages and $1.8 million in compensatory damages.
Bankruptcy and Trust
These and other lawsuits eventually forced Owens Corning to file for bankruptcy protection, which it did in 2000. In 2006 the company emerged and was reorganized, ready again to do business providing construction materials.
As part of the reorganization, the company established two trust funds with two sub-funds: the Owens Corning Fibreboard Asbestos Personal Injury Trust, Owens Corning Subfund, and Fibreboard Subfund.
The Fibreboard trust was funded with $3.4 billion, and the Owens Corning trust with $1.5 billion. Within two years, the two funds together had already paid out $1.4 billion to claimants.
Owens Corning and Fibreboard caused a lot of damage by using asbestos in their products. This is especially true in light of the information that came forward, proving the company knew about the risks of asbestos but hid them for decades. People got sick and died because of those actions, and many are still suffering.
If you were affected by Owens Corning products and asbestos, you could work with a mesothelioma and asbestos lawyer to file a claim with the active trust and get compensation for your illness.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.