Westinghouse Electric Company
The original Westinghouse Electric Corporation no longer exists today, but from it emerged today’s Westinghouse Electric Company, which provides the full range of products and services needed for running nuclear power plants. The company was originally formed to make and distribute alternating current electrical systems and to supply electric utility companies.
Because the company worked with machinery and electrical equipment, it used asbestos in many products and components because of the mineral’s ability to insulate and fireproof. That use caught up to the company in the form of thousands of asbestos exposure lawsuits by the late 1980s. Unlike many similar companies, Westinghouse never filed for bankruptcy or created an asbestos trust, and because of its many mergers and acquisitions, determining liability and forcing settlement payments to victims has been challenging.
The company that has alternately been called Westinghouse Electric Corporation and Company has gone through a lot of different transitions over the years. Founded in the 1880s the company is significantly different today than it was back then. One thing that remains the same is that it is involved in energy and power generation. From the early days of electricity to nuclear power today, Westinghouse continues to supply utilities. Today it leads the nuclear power industry by providing the equipment and services needed to build, run, maintain, and dismantle nuclear plants.
George Westinghouse, who invented the air brake, founded the Westinghouse Electric Company in 1886. He started the company to make electrical systems using alternate current, a controversial practice at the time, as in the early days of electricity the U.S. was using direct current. Westinghouse turned out to be right that alternating current was the way of the future and the company thrived.
By 1945 the company had grown larger and had branched out into more areas of electrical products. The name at this time changed to Westinghouse Electric Corporation and the headquarters were in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After World War II the company grew even bigger and became an important supplier to electric utilities, providing the machinery and services needed to generate electricity at power plants, distribute electricity to homes and buildings, and to maintain electrical power. The company also made electrical appliances for residential markets until the mid-1970s. Many of the products Westinghouse made included asbestos.
It was also after World War II that Westinghouse first got into the nuclear industry, making reactors both for nuclear power plants and for submarines used by the U.S. Navy. The company also supplied the military with radar equipment and other electronics. Beginning in the 1990s the company branched out into television and radio and purchased CBS in 1995 and Infinity Broadcasting in 1996. In 1997 Westinghouse ditched its classic name and became CBS Corporation. CBS was then bought by Viacom. In all of the changes, Westinghouse Electric ultimately ended up bought by Toshiba and today is a company that supplies the nuclear power industry.
Use of Asbestos
For many years Westinghouse made a full range of parts, equipment, and machinery used in the generation and distribution of electric power as well as home electrical appliances. Many of these products needed to be able to be insulated because of high temperatures and to contain the electricity, making them safe and fireproof. For a certain period of time, the obvious material for providing all these qualities was asbestos. Asbestos is a natural mineral that is highly effective at insulating, for both temperature and electricity, and fireproofing. Westinghouse, like other companies, used asbestos for decades in the manufacture of many of its products.
Many of the components that are used in power plants, nuclear reactors, and electrical plants used asbestos. Some of the products that Westinghouse used asbestos to make include turbines, gaskets, electronic equipment, caulking paste, micarta insulation, light bulbs, power lines and cables, packing materials, laminate, and many others.
People that worked in Westinghouse factories, making the products that contained asbestos, were put at serious risk of being exposed to the harmful mineral and of getting sick as a result. These workers had to handle the asbestos and manipulate it to be used in products. This handling causes tiny fibers of the mineral to flake off and cover the work area in asbestos dust. That dust, when inhaled or ingested, can cause serious damage in the body, leading some people to develop mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases like lung cancer, or asbestosis.
Other people who were at risk of being exposed to Westinghouse asbestos were the workers in the electrical and power industries that worked with and handled the asbestos products. Power plant workers, pipefitters and steamfitters, workers installing and maintaining turbines and other Westinghouse equipment, and any others who handled or worked around the products were likely to have experienced harmful asbestos exposure.
One major source of asbestos contamination caused by Westinghouse products was the turbine that the company manufactured for ship engine rooms. They were used in U.S. Navy ships and are known to have caused many people to be exposed to asbestos. Turbines were not the only components of Navy ships that contained asbestos, but they were a significant source. Mesothelioma rates are higher in Navy veterans than in the general population for this reason.
The use of asbestos in Westinghouse products eventually ceased, but the effects of exposure lingered and those workers who got sick filed lawsuits against the companies responsible. Compared to other companies that used asbestos, Westinghouse did not face as many lawsuits. About 3,000 lawsuits were fought by Westinghouse, with some going in the company’s favor and others favoring settlements for the victims. As one example, the family of a man who worked in a shipyard and later died of mesothelioma was awarded $7.25 million to be paid by Westinghouse and General Electric.
Also unlike other asbestos companies, Westinghouse did not file for bankruptcy as a reaction to the lawsuits. Instead, it decided to fight the litigation. Although there is no asbestos trust for Westinghouse asbestos victims to petition for compensation, those with valid cases can still step forward and file a lawsuit. It has been challenging to connect liability to the company today because it has changed hands and gone through mergers so many times, but it is possible.
If you believe that your mesothelioma or lung cancer can be blamed on working with Westinghouse products, you may have a case to claim compensation. Let an experienced asbestos lawyer guide you as you decide what steps to take next. With expertise on your side, you stand a much better chance of winning and receiving justice.
Page edited by Dave Foster
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