They mined and sold the carcinogenic raw material to these businesses to be manufactured into other asbestos-based materials such as insulation, cement, and paints. Their customers were industrial businesses such as textile and pharmaceutical companies, gas and oil companies, construction companies, and motor vehicle companies.
Harmful Products and Health Consequences
People who worked with materials made with chrysotile were at an increased risk of developing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. Research shows that this harsh carcinogen damaged peoples’ lungs and caused asbestosis at higher rates than other asbestos fibers.
Because workers were not informed of the dangers, they often took no safety precautions or used inadequate measures such as wearing gloves to protect themselves from exposure. Courts across the country have ordered Union Carbide to pay multiple million-dollar verdicts to people who have died or fallen ill because of the company’s negligence in warning people of the dangers of their products.
A California court in 2012 ordered the company to pay approximately $40 million to a contractor whose mesothelioma was caused by working with Union Carbide carcinogens from 1960 through the 1970s. This trial exposed documents, which included an internal memorandum proving Union officials were aware that exposure to asbestos fibers could cause cancer. However, the company chose to continue profiting off the material for as long as possible before the federal government banned the substance as carcinogenic. As of 2018, the company was still facing new lawsuits over deaths caused by the company decades ago.
In 2018, the Madison St. Clair Record reported that the estate of one Wisconsin electrician who died of lung cancer in 2016 was suing Union Carbide and other companies over his death. The man worked in conditions that caused him to inhale asbestos fibers from 1948 through 1985.1
The Future of Union Carbide
Unlike many asbestos manufacturers, Union Carbide has yet to file for bankruptcy protection to limit the amount of money it will have to pay out in settlements and verdicts for asbestos litigation. Since mesothelioma has a long latency period of around 20 to 40 years, Union is likely to be defending the company in court well into the future.
Because some of the lawsuits against Union involved plaintiffs who could not adequately prove Union’s liability for the plaintiffs’ illnesses or deaths, the company has successfully defended itself against some of the litigation. In other cases, Union has chosen to settle out of court with plaintiffs who subsequently dropped the company’s name from their suits before trial.2