GM was also involved in making tanks and fighter planes during the Second World War, which caused many veterans to be exposed to asbestos.
Harmful Products and Health Consequences
Once auto sales began taking off between 1950-1960, GM began further diversifying to become involved in even more industries, including with locomotive maker Electro-Motive.
GM and its subsidiaries utilized asbestos-containing appliance parts, gasket and engine parts, brake and clutch lining, transmissions, locomotive brakes, adhesives, and more, which caused many people to develop asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma.
Mechanics performing brake repairs had a high risk of exposure due to the way asbestos fibers are released into the air in this line of work. Inhaling the dust proved deadly for many, as over the years, their lungs became diseased. People who worked with these car parts had no knowledge of the potentially fatal hazards of doing so until it was too late.
The development of mesothelioma from secondhand exposure is less common than contracting the disease firsthand. Wives whose husbands worked with asbestos were exposed when washing their husband’s asbestos-filled work uniforms.
Since workers had no idea they were bringing carcinogenic dust home to their families, they had no way to know that their families could become sick or die as a result of their jobs.
Lawsuits and Bankruptcy
Before filing for bankruptcy in 2009, General Motors faced an onslaught of litigation for illnesses and cancer deaths, the majority of which stemmed from GM’s involvement in the auto industry, which was known for utilizing asbestos-based linings for car brakes and clutches. While the industry generally stopped utilizing asbestos linings in its new automobiles by 1980, these linings were still present in older vehicles.
The courts have held GM liable in a variety of multi-million dollar lawsuits, many filed by mechanics. Other legal claims were brought to court by warehouse workers and their surviving family members. A smaller number of cases involved secondhand exposure, which resulted from GM workers who brought home deadly asbestos-laden fibers to their families who became sick or died.
An Asbestos Trust
Since GM’s bankruptcy, which was handled a bit differently than many other asbestos company bankruptcies since the government bailed the company out, General Motors has become quite profitable. Still, asbestosis claims are handled through a trust established by the bankruptcy courts.