Owens Corning is a large, international company that makes and sells a variety of types of insulation, roofing materials and systems, and composite materials for the construction industry. It is especially well known for innovating and making fiberglass products, especially insulation. The company has over 15,000 employees around the world, nearly 100 production plants, and is headquartered in Toledo, Ohio.
For many years the company made its insulation using asbestos. Although it was advertised as fiberglass insulation, asbestos was added to the mixture to add insulating and fireproofing properties. Over decades of use of asbestos, Owens Corning put thousands of people at risk of developing mesothelioma and other asbestos illnesses. Lawsuits followed diagnoses and the company was eventually forced into bankruptcy and to create an asbestos trust to compensate future victims.
The original name of the company was Owens-Corning Fiberglass Company and it 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. This reflected the fact that the company had grown since its founding to include many more products than just fiberglass insulation.
Owens Corning became successful early on because it produced a type of insulation that was effective and affordable. It quickly became popular with homeowners and in commercial construction. The demand for the product was particularly high following World War II when the U.S. saw a big housing boom. By 1952 Owens Corning was ready to go public as it continued to grow, expanding its product offerings to include a number of materials and components for the construction industry.
The company began to hit a rough patch in the 1980s for several reasons. One of these was a slowdown in construction and new homes. Owens Corning had also fought off a hostile takeover by taking on a lot of debt. And, finally, the company was facing thousands of lawsuits over asbestos. The harm caused by the asbestos used for decades in insulation caught up with the company and eventually it had to file for bankruptcy. Adding to its woes was the fact that the company had acquired another construction materials company called Fibreboard, which also used asbestos, and took on its liabilities as well.
Owens Corning Asbestos Use in Products
The use of asbestos in insulation was not unusual at the time that Owens Corning included it in the fiberglass mixture. Asbestos is a natural mineral that was readily available and inexpensive. For the purposes of insulating homes and buildings, it has several important properties: it is an excellent insulator, helping retain heat in a building or cold in refrigeration storage, it resists fire and adds fireproofing to materials, and it adds durability to materials but not much added weight.
Because of all of these factors, Owens Corning used asbestos in many of its products, but mostly in insulation. One of the main product brands made with asbestos was called Kaylo. Kaylo pipe insulation, duct insulation, insulating block, insulating roof tiles, laminated panels, and equipment insulation were all made using asbestos in the recipe. 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 also took on liability for all of 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 eventually it was determined that when people were exposed to it they often inhaled the tiny fibers it was made of and that this made some people very sick. Decades after this kind of 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 that used asbestos products or worked around the 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. The workers that handled the materials, like roofers or insulation installers were most at risk. However, any construction workers on a site, including electricians, carpenters, plumbers, drywall workers, and others were at risk of inhaling dust that contained asbestos fibers and of 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, the company started to face lawsuits over the use of asbestos and failing 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 it was discovered 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 in providing construction materials. As part of the reorganization, a trust was established with two sub-funds. They are called 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 its 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 can work with a mesothelioma and asbestos lawyer to file a claim with the active trust and get compensation for your illness.
Page edited by Dave Foster
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