Millions of dollars of litigation ensued, ultimately forcing the company to file bankruptcy.
In 2000, Owens Corning Fiberglas Corporation filed bankruptcy over more than 200,000 asbestosis claims. In 2006, it set up the Owens Corning/Fibreboard Asbestos Personal Injury Trust to pay for future claims.
Within two years, the trust paid out $1.4 billion in claims. Claimants diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer have received the highest payouts, but people with asbestosis claims have also successfully gained compensation through the trust and the courts.
Harmful Products and Health Consequences
Exposure to asbestos-laden insulation causes cancer and other ailments in various ways. Factory workers are often exposed continuously throughout their workdays, and it was common that workers received no warning of the risks or protection from the carcinogenic fibers they inhaled and brought home to their households.
Contractors and other workers were exposed not by working at the plants but in their jobs that required tearing down or shredding insulation blocks. Pipefitters and boiler room workers were also exposed. Packing and unpacking such carcinogenic fibers can cause illness, as can even handling the fibers briefly, as the EPA has stated that there is no safe level of exposure.
Owens Corning Fiberglas Corporation’s patents provide evidence of their use of asbestos-laden materials. One patent from 1938 for a method of producing combined asbestos and glass fiber yarns states that these materials were “particularly adapted for electrical insulation, packing material, gaskets, friction elements, heat insulation, cement, fillers in fabricated boards, acoustical insulation, battery separators, and various other uses.”1
A 1956 patent for an “apparatus for packing asbestos fibers” states that “it has been customary to pack the fibrous material loosely, as by gravity, into a wrapper, such as a burlap sack or the like, for protecting the material during storage and shipment and for easily handling such fibrous material.” This new patented packaging system would pressure-pack the fibers by compressing them into a firm block.2
Lawsuits: Past, Present, and Future
Owens Corning faced many lawsuits before its bankruptcy, many of which were filed by ship workmen and others who became ill with mesothelioma. These lawsuits alleged that Owens was aware of asbestosis risks by the late 1930s but ignored the risks when it came to warning people who would be working around these potentially deadly carcinogens.
Since mesothelioma can take an average of 20 to 40 years to be diagnosed, it is likely that many more people have been injured by Kaylo brand insulation materials. Most workers prior to the 1970s routinely brought the deadly fibers home to their families via their work uniforms, which were often washed by their wives. These workers also spread the dust and fibers to the family’s furniture and bedding, which caused many of their spouses and children to become ill with mesothelioma decades later.3