Beginning in 1914, the Plibrico Company has been focused on developing, building, and selling refractory products, materials and components designed to withstand high temperature environments. Specifically, Plibrico makes monolithic materials, components that are single pieces instead of multiple pieces put together. This makes them even stronger and better able to withstand extremely high temperatures.
Today the company uses materials like alumina and aluminosilicate to make these products, but in the past it used asbestos. Asbestos has a superior ability to resist high temperatures and is easy to mold into various shapes, but the downside is that it can cause fatal illnesses in people exposed to it. This has led to a number of mesothelioma lawsuits that eventually caused Plibrico to file for bankruptcy protection. It emerged in 2006 and established a trust to pay claims to victims.
Plibrico today is a modern refractory company that specializes in turnkey, monolithic refractory products. Refractory materials are those that can withstand extremely high temperatures, like those in refineries, furnaces, and metalworking plants. Plibrico is even more specific, though, making components that are molded to be made in one piece, custom work designed to fit each client’s space and needs. Plibrico products are distributed in the U.S., while the company sends Plico-branded products to international customers. The company headquarters are in Northbrook, Illinois and the materials are manufactured in Oak Hill, Ohio.
Plibrico was founded in 1914 by W.A.L. Schaeffer. The original name of the company was the Pliable Brick Company, later shortened to Plibrico. Schaeffer was an innovator in refractory materials. He saw that the future was in custom design of materials and products and installation on site. He also helped to develop more modern materials for making refractory products.
Unfortunately, some of those materials included asbestos because it has such superior qualities for molding, strengthening, and insulating for high-temperature environments. Because of this asbestos use Plibrico eventually faced a number of lawsuits over exposure and illness and ultimately had to file for bankruptcy before opening up once again for business.
Asbestos Use by Plibrico
Making refractory materials in the early and middle 20th century nearly always meant using asbestos. At the time it was the best known material for making these products. It was easy to get as it was abundant in mines, and it was inexpensive. Asbestos is easily shaped and molded, so companies like Plibrico could form it into any needed shape depending on the installation. It also added strength to materials, but most importantly asbestos is very effective at withstanding and insulating against high temperatures, exactly what refractory materials need.
For several decades, most heavily during the 1950s through the 1970s, Plibrico used asbestos in nearly all of its refractory products. These include the custom, monolithic pieces that the company became known for, but also other products like insulating cement, coatings for boilers and furnaces, casting materials, and various types of insulations and coverings.
Many people were put at risk for the decades that Plibrico used asbestos in its manufacturing process. Anyone who handled the asbestos, and even anyone who worked near it or in the same facility, was put at risk of being harmfully exposed. Asbestos is so dangerous because the tiny fibers that it is made up of come loose easily and drift into the air. Here they can be inhaled by anyone nearby or they can settle as dust on surfaces, to be inhaled or ingested accidentally. These little fibers do not pass through the body easily, and instead they stick in tissues and cause damage. In a handful of people this leads to lung cancer, mesothelioma, or asbestosis.
Plibrico workers, especially those involved in the making of the products were at risk of exposure and illness. The workers who installed the refractory materials were also at risk, as were all the workers for other companies that handled or worked around Plibrico asbestos products. These include other types of industrial factory workers, those that worked with furnaces and boilers, repair and maintenance workers, installation installers, cement workers, and many others. Some of these workers even put their families at risk by unknowingly bringing home asbestos fibers on their clothing.
The heavy use of asbestos in the refractory industry caught up with most companies, and Plibrico was no exception. The company was successful for decades by providing quality materials, but the asbestos use ultimately caused thousands of people to get sick. As in other industries, many of these sick workers sued the companies responsible, like Plibrico, for exposing them to harmful asbestos fibers.
Plibrico began to see the bulk of its lawsuits in the 1980s and 1990s, but they continued to come in during the 2000s as more workers got asbestos-related diagnoses. For example, in 2001, Plibrico was one of many defendants in a case filed by a New Jersey Steamfitters Union. These and other, class action and individual lawsuits, forced Plibrico into a difficult position. The lawsuits became too costly and the company risked going out of business.
Plibrico Bankruptcy and Asbestos Trust for Victims
The pile up of lawsuits over mesothelioma and asbestos became too much for Plibrico to handle without completely going out of business. If it had gone out of business, none of the victims would have gotten the compensation they deserved. Plibrico turned to a solution common to other businesses in this position by filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. This allows a company to reorganize and set aside funds to compensate victims.
Plibrico finally filed for bankruptcy in 2002 under the weight of costly lawsuits. It took four years for the company to come up with a reorganization plan that would work, that would allow it to operate again and that would be agreed upon by bankruptcy court. Plibrico finally emerged from bankruptcy in 2006. As part of the reorganization it was required to start up an asbestos trust that would compensate valid claims from asbestos exposure victims. It’s called the Plibrico asbestos trust, and it was created in 2006 and funded with more than $206 million. It is currently still active and accepting claims, while the reorganized Plibrico continues to operate and sell refractory products without asbestos.
Plibrico did what many companies making refractory products did, which is use asbestos in its products without warning workers and others of the risks associated with handling and being around this harmful mineral. As a result, many people got sick with terminal illnesses and had their lives cut short. If this happened to you, and you believe that Plibrico was even just one of the companies that caused you to be exposed to asbestos, you have a right to seek compensation. You can do this by addressing the asbestos trust. Victims can file a claim, but it is often best to work with a mesothelioma lawyer to do this and to get the best chance possible of having a valid claim that will be compensated.
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