Republic Powdered Metals (RPM Industries) has been manufacturing protective coatings since the 1940s, and in the 1960s, RPM acquired a company that produced joint compounds with asbestos. RPM assumed liability for asbestos-related illnesses and faced millions of dollars in lawsuits. Eventually, the company filed for bankruptcy protection and established an asbestos trust fund.
Republic Powdered Metals is now known as RPM International Inc. RPM manufactures products for clients worldwide and operates 139 facilities in the United States and other countries.
The company employs around 14,000 people and manufactures specialty chemicals, sealants, and high-performance coatings. The most recent year’s sales were over $5 billion.
Frank Sullivan established Republic Powdered Metals in 1947 for the sole purpose of manufacturing Alumanation. Alumanation was a proprietary specialty protective coating made from aluminum and used for roofing. This product is still sold by RPM today.
Over the next few decades, Republic Powdered Metals expanded business, acquiring other companies and offering more products.
Additional products included rust and waterproofing coatings under brand names like ValvTect, Mohawk, Chemspec, Guardian, and Day-Glo. Frank’s grandson took over the business in 2002 and instituted an aggressive practice of acquiring new companies.
One of these acquired companies was Reardon, which RPM took over in 1966. Reardon produced a brand of products called Bondex, which included joint compounds, coatings, and cement.
Although RPM continued to expand, it filed for bankruptcy in 2010. The company’s financial hardships were due to the cost of lawsuits over mesothelioma and other illnesses related to asbestos in Bondex products. RPM emerged from bankruptcy and continues operation today.
Asbestos Use in Products
Bondex products made by Reardon and then RPM contained asbestos. Asbestos was once commonly used in construction materials. Its unique properties, like lightweight durability and easy mold-ability, made it useful in this industry.
Asbestos is also a helpful additive for insulation and fireproofing. The brand RPM was ultimately responsible for products that contained asbestos, including:
- Bondex ready-mix
- All-purpose joint compounds
- All-purpose joint cement
- Bontone fibred masonry coating
- Dramex ready-mix finish
- Liquid aluminum coating
Workers who handled or worked around asbestos were at risk of exposure and later developing serious illnesses, including mesothelioma, lung cancer, and lung scarring called asbestosis. These conditions are progressive and ultimately fatal.
Asbestos contributes to these diseases when its tiny, needle-like fibers are inhaled or ingested. When asbestos is cut or broken, these tiny fibers come loose to float in the air as dust.
People in the vicinity can accidentally inhale these fibers. Once asbestos fibers enter the body, they become lodged in tissue and cause damage over time.
The more asbestos is handled, manipulated, and disturbed, the more likely it will cause exposure. RPM workers involved in manufacturing Bondex and other asbestos products were at risk of exposure on the job.
Additionally, workers in other industries, especially construction workers, were at risk when using the products. For example, joint compounds were often sanded, causing asbestos fibers to contaminate the air and settle on surfaces; homeowners were also at risk of exposure if these products were used to construct their homes.
Asbestos Lawsuits and Bankruptcy
After facing several asbestos-related lawsuits, mostly from Bondex products, RPM filed for bankruptcy in 2010. By 2014 it had reached an agreement to set aside nearly $800 million for asbestos claims.
Lawsuits leading up to bankruptcy numbered in the thousands and included expensive settlements. In one example, a former Texas painter who used Bondex products on the job for many years developed mesothelioma. Four different companies were defendants in the case. All of them had to split the $11 million settlement awarded to the victim.
After filing for bankruptcy, RPM created an asbestos trust as part of its reorganization plan. The trust was founded in 2010 and funded with $140 million. This allowed the company to begin operating again as a coatings and chemical manufacturer while also compensating victims for asbestos-related illnesses.
RPM survived its asbestos liability; although, it had to reorganize and create an asbestos trust fund. It is expected that more victims will come forward as time passes. If you can trace your illness to the use of Bondex, you can file a claim with RPM’s trust to seek the compensation you need.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.