Because this type of equipment gets extremely hot, asbestos was frequently used to line the machines to prevent overheating. Many people who worked on and around or did repair work on linotype machines made by Mergenthaler later became ill due to asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma cancer.
Harmful Products and Health Consequences
A patent originally assigned to the company in 1905 for the linotype machine states that a pad or wiper of asbestos or similar materials was used to improve the machine’s performance.1 An instruction manual for the machines from the 1920s also mentions that asbestos meal should be mixed with water to form a paste and coat the pot jackets to fill in spaces around the crucible.2
As such, many workers’ jobs included handling and removing asbestos-laden parts. Repair workers also stirred up the toxic dust while they were chipping off the old materials. Ingestion and inhalation of toxic asbestos fibers while on the job resulted in many cases of asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma.
People often show signs of asbestosis within a decade of exposure, but they might not develop mesothelioma for 20 to 40 years later.
Lawsuits Against Mergenthaler
Mergenthaler has been sued on multiple occasions for putting its workers in harm’s way. The company did not warn its workers of the risks attached to long-term asbestos exposure. Most people who worked with asbestos-based products during this timeframe had no idea of the dangers and could not have been found to have contributed to their own injuries because there was no information given to them to let them know they needed to protect themselves.
It was common for people to become ill many years later, and some of the lawsuits were filed by spouses of workers who died of mesothelioma before legal action could be taken through the courts. It is possible that more people who worked around linotype machines will develop mesothelioma because the damage can take decades to appear.3