The Union Asbestos and Rubber Company (UNARCO) made insulation products during the decades of heavy asbestos use in construction materials. Although it stopped using asbestos decades ago, the harm caused to people exposed continues today. The company filed for bankruptcy early in the 1980s, and its reorganization included the formation of an asbestos trust to compensate victims of asbestos exposure.
Wagoner, Oklahoma-based Unarco Industries LLC makes and sells shopping carts. This is a specialized market, but the company makes a wide range of carts and focuses on technology, roll cages for moving stock, and e-commerce.
Unarco is one of the leading suppliers of this kind of equipment, and it is developing an international presence in the market. Unarco is owned by Berkshire Hathaway and is part of the Marmon Group.
UNARCO was originally known as the Union Asbestos and Rubber Company. It was founded in 1941 in Paterson, New Jersey.
It made insulation with asbestos and expanded rapidly after World War II thanks to a boom in housing and commercial building.
New construction required a variety of insulation products, including home insulation, pipe insulation, and specialized insulation for industrial equipment like boilers and furnaces. By the mid-1950s, the company had moved to Bloomington, Illinois.
In the early 1960s, UNARCO bought the Folding Carrier Corporation, founded in 1937 by Sylvan Goldman, the man who invented the shopping cart. Folding Carrier was based in Oklahoma City.
This deal led UNARCO to abandon asbestos insulation, change its name to Unarco Industries, and focus solely on making and distributing shopping carts. The company also moved its headquarters again to Wagoner, Oklahoma.
UNARCO used asbestos in nearly all of its insulation products. Some workers got sick from exposure and eventually sued the company over it.
In 1982 UNARCO became the first company to file for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection because of the overwhelming costs of asbestos lawsuits. The company reorganized, established a trust for asbestos victims, and today continues to operate.
Asbestos Use in Insulation
UNARCO used asbestos extensively in its insulation products. Asbestos was a typical component of insulation at that time because it was so effective at insulating against heat, fireproofing, and keeping refrigerated units cold. Asbestos was also easy to get, with mines around the world producing it at a low cost.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that the federal government put restrictions in place to limit how and where asbestos could be used because of the overwhelming evidence that exposure to it could cause mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis.
The insulation that UNARCO made varied from home products used in residential construction to heavy-duty industrial insulation for boilers, turbines, furnaces, and pipes. The company’s insulation products went into homes, apartment buildings, factories, power plants, oil refineries, and many other industrial facilities.
Asbestos Exposure from UNARCO Insulation
UNARCO’s use of asbestos in insulation caused asbestos exposure in thousands of people. Most harmed were the workers who made the insulation. They had to process the asbestos and use it to make insulation products.
Handling asbestos can cause the microscopic fibers to break off and enter the air. Workers and others in the area inhale the fibers, which causes some of them to get so sick years later.
Workers who handled and used the UNARCO insulation in other industries were also at risk. Construction workers who installed the insulation or did work on existing insulation were likely to have disturbed the asbestos, causing exposure.
Other workers that could have been exposed include boilermakers, factory workers, welders, pipefitters, and employees in other industrial facilities like refineries, chemical plants, paper mills, or steel mills.
Because of the exposure and resulting asbestos illnesses in so many people who used or lived with UNARCO insulation, the company was sued many times, starting as early as the 1950s.
Seventeen UNARCO employees filed claims in 1951, stating that working with asbestos in the factory had made them ill. A survey of nearly 1,000 workers at UNARCO’s New Jersey facility between 1941 and 1945 proved that they had a higher proportion of respiratory illnesses than the general population.
A more recent case showed it was not just UNARCO workers who suffered from asbestos exposure. Juanita Rodarmel, the wife of a UNARCO employee, developed and died from mesothelioma after years of washing his asbestos-covered clothing. Her family sued Unarco in 2009. During the trial, lawyers showed the company had tried to hide the risks of working with asbestos. The family won a $2 million settlement.
Bankruptcy and Asbestos Trust
The number of lawsuits against UNARCO grew so rapidly that the company filed for bankruptcy in 1982. It was the first asbestos company to take this route, but it was followed by many more.
UNARCO emerged from bankruptcy in 1989 and continued to operate as Unarco Industries, making shopping carts. As part of the reorganization agreement, the company created an asbestos trust to handle future asbestos exposure claims through UNARCO insulation and related illnesses. The trust, funded with $114 million in 1990, is called the UNR Asbestos Disease Claims Trust.
If you believe UNARCO asbestos insulation caused you to develop a respiratory illness or cancer, you have a right to file a claim and request compensation. Unfortunately, the trust only takes claims from people whose asbestos exposure occurred before 1982. This should not limit victims, however, as the company stopped using asbestos well before that. If you have questions about how to proceed, contact an experienced asbestos lawyer for help.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.