By the early 1950s, people who worked there were already becoming ill with asbestosis and filing worker’s compensation claims. By the 1980s, the business filed bankruptcy because so many people were filing lawsuits over mesothelioma cancer and pulmonary disease caused by working around these deadly materials.
Harmful Products and Health Consequences
In a study published in Industrial Health in 2001, researchers analyzed more than 1500 people who suffered from mesothelioma between 1975-2000. This research focused on the company’s insulation workers. The study showed that smoking cigarettes did not cause mesothelioma and that in most cases, it took more than 20 years for workers to develop mesothelioma after exposure.
The researchers also concluded that insulation workers handling asbestosis-inducing fibers, or those who worked nearby, had the highest risk of developing lung cancer. When the carcinogenic fibers from asbestosis-inducing insulation are spread through the air of a workplace, it is inevitable that workers will inhale the toxic dust that lodges into the lungs and causes asbestos-related disease.1
Lawsuits, Bankruptcy, and an Asbestos Trust
UNARCO attempted to defend litigation not only from workers but also from relatives of workers who were ill or had passed away due to negligence on the part of the business. Working with the carcinogenic insulation typically involved coming home covered with fibers, which workers had no way of knowing were deadly. Workers left their laundry for their wives to wash, which caused their spouses to become exposed and sometimes die of secondhand exposure. Children were also at risk because hugging their fathers who were wearing their work uniforms or sharing furniture onto which the toxic fibers had embedded put them in harm’s way.
These lawsuits resulted in millions of dollars worth of damages paid by the business before they eventually filed bankruptcy in 1982. In 1990, UNARCO created the UNR Asbestos-Disease Claims Trust to cover future asbestos-related claims. The trust has been inactive as of 2019.
UNARCO was a leader in the trend that soon followed for asbestos companies to file bankruptcy to reduce their financial burdens due to an onslaught of asbestosis claims in the 1980s. By then, many people who had worked with asbestosis-inducing insulation in previous years were feeling the results of their companies’ negligence. Asbestos insulation companies understood that they were putting workers at risk but had no idea how much it would cost them years later.