Today Union Carbide is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Dow Chemical Company, but before the multi-billion dollar purchase in 2001 it was an independent chemical, petrochemical, and asbestos company. Union Carbide now produces chemicals and polymers with 2,300 employees and some of the largest and most technologically-advanced manufacturing facilities in the world. One of its main focuses is ethylene from crude oil that is used to make a large variety of chemicals that go into many products.
Although Union Carbide is no longer in the business of distributing asbestos, for many years it was a major producer of the mineral. It sold asbestos to other companies that used it in thousands of different products, like construction materials. This distribution of asbestos caused a lot of illnesses and subsequent lawsuits that have uncovered evidence of cover-ups of information about asbestos and its connection to mesothelioma and lung cancer.
The history of Union Carbide begins in 1917 when it was founded as the Union Carbide & Carbon Corporation. The founding came after the acquisition of several other companies, including Union Carbide Company, which was founded in 1898. The company focused on ethylene from the beginning, earning a patent for the first commercial preparation of the chemical in 1919. By 1920 the company had become the Carbide and Carbon Chemicals Corporation and had opened the first ethylene plant in the country in Clendenin, West Virginia.
The company continued to expand, making ethylene but also many other chemicals. In 1939 it acquired Bakelite Corporation and began making more plastics. In 1941 the company opened a new production facility for chemicals in Texas City, Texas. In 1947 it acquired a facility in West Virginia that had been used by the government during World War II and began making styrene and butadiene. By 1957 the name of the company officially changed to Union Carbide Corporation and there were even more production facilities beginning to operate.
In addition to production of chemicals, Union Carbide expanded into mining. It mined uranium ore and processed the mineral, and also mined, processed and distributed asbestos. The asbestos it mined and produced was called Calidria chrysotile asbestos. It came from a mine near King City, California and was processed in a mill in California before being sold to other companies. Union Carbide was purchased by Dow Chemical Company in 2001 for over $11 billion. Although the asbestos the company distributed over the years have led to numerous lawsuits, Union Carbide never filed for bankruptcy or established an asbestos trust.
How Union Carbide Used Asbestos
Unlike many other companies that have been found to be liable for asbestos illnesses, Union Carbide never actually made any products that contained asbestos. Instead, it mined asbestos in California, processed it in a facility there, and then sold and distributed it to other companies that did manufacture products with asbestos. These included construction materials, the automotive industry, oil and gas facilities, and textile plants, among others.
Union Carbide first began mining asbestos in the early 1960s when a deposit was discovered in the area around King City, California. The asbestos was chrysotile, the type that is used in most asbestos applications. Union Carbide gave its asbestos the brand name Calidria. In later lawsuits numerous plaintiffs claimed that the company sold them Calidria asbestos under false pretenses, telling them that it was a safer type of asbestos. Evidence emerged that showed the company’s own scientists discovered that Calidria asbestos caused just as much lung damage in lab rats as other types of asbestos.
The claim that Union Carbide made that its asbestos was less harmful than other types was completely bogus. Thousands of people were exposed to Calidria and later developed asbestos lung cancer, mesothelioma, or asbestosis. The people most affected were those who worked in the processing facility and mine, directly handling or working near the asbestos being processed for sale.
Handling of asbestos can cause the small fibers to come loose. Workers can then inhale the microscopic particles, which act like tiny needles sticking in tissues in the body, especially around the lungs. Over many years this causes damage that in some people leads to a devastating diagnosis of a terminal disease or cancer.
Because the Calidria asbestos was sold to many other industries, the potential for exposure expanded greatly over many years. Workers that used the asbestos to make products in other facilities, like insulation factories or textile mills, were put at risk for exposure. Even further down the line, the workers who used the finished products, including construction workers, insulation installers, boiler workers and many others, were also put at risk for being exposed to the Calidria asbestos in the products they worked with every day.
Union Carbide faced many lawsuits over the exposure to Calidria asbestos that caused many people to get sick. Some of these cost the company a lot of money. For example, in 2012 a man was awarded $48 million in a case in which he claimed that asbestos from Union Carbide and other companies caused him to develop mesothelioma. Union Carbide was ordered to pay $37.5 million of the total settlement. Another man, who worked in construction and used products with Calidria, sued and won an $18 million settlement in 2014. During many of these trials evidence came to light showing that Union Carbide knew and hid information about the risks of working with asbestos.
Not all of the cases against Union Carbide over asbestos came from individuals. In 2004 Kelly-Moore, the paint company, sued Union Carbide over the asbestos it purchased from the company to be used as a thickener in its paints and other products. Kelly-Moore claimed that Union Carbide promoted the Calidria asbestos, which was mined in California, as being a safer alternative to other types of asbestos. The lawsuit also claimed that Union Carbide new this wasn’t true and that it had and hid evidence that this type of asbestos caused cancer and asbestosis. Other companies that were customers of Union Carbide have also filed suits for similar reasons and with similar claims. These companies are facing their own lawsuits over asbestos exposure and want Union Carbide to be held accountable.
To have used and supplied other companies with asbestos when Union Carbide did was not unusual. Many companies used asbestos at the time. What was reprehensible about Union Carbide was that the company knew about the harm asbestos could cause, hid that information, and even actively lied in selling its product, claiming it was safe. An internal memo was even discovered in which an executive stated that the company should profit as much as possible from asbestos in the decades before people would start to get sick.
Union Carbide was never so overwhelmed by asbestos litigation that it had to file for bankruptcy or create an asbestos trust to help compensate victims, but it is still battling lawsuits and defending its actions in the past. If you were harmed by asbestos distributed by Union Carbide, you can still make your case. People are still being diagnosed with mesothelioma and other cancers and Union Carbide and Dow are still liable for these cases. You can rely on an experienced asbestos and mesothelioma lawyer to help you make a case of your own. With the right representation you have a good chance of winning the settlement you need and deserve.
Page edited by Dave Foster
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