Owens Corning/Fibreboard Corporation

Owens Corning Company History

Owens Corning of Toledo, Ohio is the world’s leading manufacturer of fiberglass and related products, such as home insulation and polyester resins. The company got its start during the Great Depression, when a company named Owens-Illinois, then a leader in glass product development, decided to open a new research facility to study the potential uses of fiberglass. Researchers quickly developed an exciting new product: cheap, high-efficiency dust filters for home furnaces made of glass wool. The biggest discovery, though, came a couple years later in 1932, when researchers in Columbus, Ohio attempting to melt glass rods stumbled on a new way to make extremely fine glass fibers.

Owens-Illinois’ leaders correctly predicted that the glass fibers would transform glass technology, and in 1935 called for a joint venture with Corning Glass Works, the country’s leading glassmaker. In 1938, the Owens Corning Fiberglass Corporation was born.

Owens Corning was a hit from the start. By the end of its first year, the company had 600 employees and reported sales of $2.5 million. Years of expansion followed, with new plants opening throughout the U.S. and the unveiling of new products, such as Kaylo fiberglass pipe-covering, glass-fiber-reinforced car bodies (as introduced in the 1953 Chevrolet Corvette) and a glass-fiber yarn called Beta. By the mid-1980s, the company employed 29,000 workers, but the late 1980s and early 1990s brought major cutbacks, with layoffs and several closed plants.

Today, Owens Corning employs 18,000 people and boasts revenue of $5.6 billion (2008). One of the company’s claims to fame remains its pink-colored fiberglass insulation, a staple since 1956. The Pink Panther cartoon character – brought on in 1980 as a marketing tool for that pink product – continues as the company’s mascot.

Products Manufactured at Owens Corning/Fibreboard that Contained Asbestos

From its founding in 1938 until 1972, Owens Corning used a fireproofing agent known as asbestos in many of its products. The mineral, which is found in large deposits in nature, had become popular with building products manufacturers and those in many other industries in the late 1800s because of its strength and fireproofing abilities, as well as its relatively low price tag. Products ranging from floor tiles to cigarettes to theatre curtains were created using the mineral’s long, crystalline fibers. Owens Corning used asbestos in its high-temperature insulation products, powdered cement, roofing and siding panels, fiberglass panels and more.

In 1997, Owens Corning acquired a company named Fibreboard Corporation with an eclectic set of operations. The California-based vinyl siding manufacturer and ski resort operator also made asbestos-containing industrial insulation, floor coverings and other products from 1920 to 1971.

Many people who worked with asbestos products during those years might recall a heavy, white dust being emitted from these items when they were being manufactured, cut or sanded down. Many thousands of people remember breathing this dust every day on the job, and going home coated in the powder each night – never thinking that it could be hazardous to their health.

But in the late 1970s, the federal government announced what many workers, unfortunately, already knew – that asbestos was dangerous. It turns out that asbestos fibers, once inhaled, can lodge themselves in a person’s lung tissue and make breathing difficult, eventually causing serious respiratory diseases like mesothelioma cancer or asbestosis.

Furthermore, many companies – including Owens Corning – came under attack for allegedly keeping secret the health risks associated with the substance. In 1999, a Florida court stated, "(F)or more than thirty (30) years Owens-Corning concealed what it knew about the dangers of asbestos. In fact, Owens-Corning's conduct was even worse than concealment, it also included intentional and knowing misrepresentations concerning the danger of its asbestos containing product, Kaylo. For instance, in 1956, Owens-Corning, after having been told by the Saranac Laboratory that Kaylo dust was 'toxic,' and that asbestos was a carcinogen, advertised Kaylo as being 'non-toxic.'"

Products manufactured by Owens Corning/Fibreboard Corporation that are believed to have contained asbestos include:

Product Years Manufactured
Fibreboard Caltemp (or Caltherm) Pipe Covering 1952-1968
Fibreboard Pabco Pipe Covering 1941-1971
Fibreboard Plant Pipe Covering
Fibreboard Prasco Pipe Covering 1928-1957
Fibreboard Super Caltemp Pipe Covering Late 1960s-1971
85% Magnesia Block, Pipe-covering and Thermal Insulation 1928-1966
FI Thermal Insulating Cement 1963-1966
No. 127 Thermal Insulating Cement 1966-1971
Aircell or Asbestos Paper Insulation 19??-1948
Pebco Floron Floor Covering 1952-1954
Colorok, Stormlap, Pabflex and Stonite Asbestos Cement Products 1948-1963
Alumishield Roof Paint 1946-1968
Gripdeck Floor Coating 1942-1968
Asphalt-Saturated Felts or Roll Roofing Sporadically from 1920-1968
Caulking Compounds, Plastic Cements, Roof Coatings 19??-1968
Flamecurb Gypsum Board 1951-1960
Gypsum Board and Lath A few months in 1954
Asbestofelt (manufactured by a predecessor) 19??-1948
Insulating Tape 1940s
Gaskets, Packings (manufactured by a predecessor) 19??-1948

Occupations at Risk for Asbestos Exposure

As shown by the lengthy list above, Owens Corning/Fibreboard Corporation’s asbestos-containing products had a wide reach, especially during the years from 1940 to 1970. Unfortunately, that means the companies’ products had the potential to affect the health of many thousands of people. Anyone who worked with or near any of the above asbestos products could be at risk of being diagnosed with mesothelioma or another life-threatening asbestos-related disease. Construction workers, roofers, general contractors, architects, custodians, and people in a number of other occupations could have been affected. Workers in Owens Corning/Fibreboard Corporation factories were also at a high risk.

But the list doesn’t stop there. Countless homes, factories and businesses used Owens Corning’s and Fibreboard’s wall insulations, pipe coverings and other products. When these insulations were installed, they were frequently cut down to a precise size, a process that released hazardous asbestos dust into the air. And when asbestos insulation ages, it tends to crack and, again, release dangerous fibers – so even years after the product is installed, it can still pose a health risk. Anyone present when these products were installed or ripped down could have been exposed.

Recent News

Owens Corning was named as a defendant in its first asbestos-related lawsuit in the early 1980s. Nearly 20 years later, in October 2000, an estimated 237,000 asbestos-related claims brought the company to file for voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Owens Corning reportedly set up a fund in the amount of $500 million to pay for future asbestos related lawsuits. The company re-organized and emerged from bankruptcy in October 2006.

Sources

Owens Corning – A Heritage of Innovation
http://www.owenscorning.com/acquainted/about/history/index.asp

Owens Corning – Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Owens_Corning

Owens Corning – Company History
http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/Owens-Corning-Corporation-Company-History.html

Owens Corning Files Voluntary Chapter 11 Petition to Resolve Asbestos Liability
http://www.owenscorning.com/finre/release.html

Owens Corning – Asbestos Chronology
http://www.owenscorning.com/finre/asbestos.html

Fibreboard Corporation – Company History
http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/Fibreboard-Corporation-Company-History.html

Lehman Brothers Collection – Fibreboard Corporation
http://www.library.hbs.edu/hc/lehman/chrono.html?company=fibreboard_corporation

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