American Biltrite History of Asbestos Use
- Years in Operation: 1908 – present
- Location: Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts
- Production: Floor coverings, paper, tape, adhesive
- Asbestos Trust: No
Miah Marcus and Frank Bernstein founded American Biltrite in 1908 in Trenton, New Jersey. They first called their business the Ewell Rubber Company. The company began in the shoemaking and rebuilding industry, and within two years, the business was steady enough to warrant opening a second manufacturing plant in Stoughton, Massachusetts. The founders called this second location Panther Rubber Manufacturing Company, and it was quickly followed by the opening of a Canadian branch in 1913. The expansion continued with a Chelsea, Massachusetts manufacturing facility opening in 1917.
The new Chelsea location enabled Ewell Rubber Company to switch its Trenton facility from manufacturing shoe materials to pursuing a joint venture with Courtaulds, a fabric, fiber and chemical manufacturer. The two companies began producing Amtico rubber flooring. This change in direction also sparked a name change to American Tile and Rubber Company.
The company’s booming shoe and flooring branches allowed it to successfully navigate the difficult war years and the Great Depression. In fact, American Tile and Rubber Company was involved in the efforts for World War II by manufacturing shoe soles, heels and raincoats for the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps.
After the war, the company rebranded to American Biltrite Rubber Company in 1951 and then became a publicly-traded company in 1959. The 1960s brought a business slump that the company remedied through acquisitions.
In 1961, American Biltrite acquired Bonafide Mills, Inc., which began the company’s involvement in manufacturing asbestos-containing products. Bonafide Mills, Inc. was a vinyl-asbestos and asphalt covering manufacturer that doubled production of Amtico rubber flooring. In addition to manufacturing the asbestos-containing flooring at its Trenton plant, American Biltrite produced the carcinogenic material at its Sherbrooke, Quebec plant.
During this time, American Biltrite’s production of Amtico rubber flooring, solid vinyl and asbestos tile flooring generated around one-third of the company’s profits. The company continued to acquire other businesses throughout the 1960s and 1970s, including multiple carpet companies and Cat’s Paw Rubber Company.
In 1982, the original founding families decided to split American Biltrite into two separate entities. The Bernstein family took control over the shoemaking portion of the business, renaming it Biltrite Corporation. The Marcus family owned the asbestos floor covering and tape products side of the business, as well as the Canadian arm. They called their portion of the business American Biltrite, Inc.
American Biltrite, Inc. was successful and revenue more than doubled in four years. The trend of acquisitions continued through the 1980s and 1990s, culminating in the company purchasing 44% of Congoleum Corporation, another manufacturer of asbestos flooring. American Biltrite was a partial owner of the company through 2012, when Congoleum became an independent, private company.
American Biltrite ended its asbestos use in 1985. Today, the company focuses heavily on environmental testing of products to ensure compliance and safety.
However, American Biltrite, Inc. and Congoleum Corporation have been named in numerous lawsuits stemming from past asbestos use. Thousands of employees and consumers developed asbestos-related diseases from using the companies’ products. Asbestos victims continue to file claims against the companies and receive compensation.
American Biltrite Asbestos Products
American Biltrite began adding asbestos to its manufacturing process in 1961, using the mineral to increase product durability, strength and resistance to heat and fire.
All products made by American Biltrite between 1961 and 1985 may have contained or been contaminated with asbestos fibers.
American Biltrite Products Containing Asbestos
|Product Name||Start Year||End Year|
|Vinyl asbestos floor tile||1961||1985|
|Sheet vinyl flooring with asbestos felt backing||1962/1974||1968/1980|
American Biltrite and Occupational Exposure
American Biltrite used asbestos within its products from 1961 through 1985. Any employees of the company between those years may have experienced occupational asbestos exposure.
Those most at risk of asbestos exposure include workers that installed and removed the asbestos-containing products. When the tiles are disturbed or broken, the asbestos particles become friable and may be inhaled, leading to disease. Homeowners removing their own tile may also be exposed to the harmful mineral.
Asbestos Litigation Against American Biltrite
American Biltrite has been named in thousands of asbestos lawsuits due to the company’s use of the additive for more than two decades. Unlike many other asbestos companies, American Biltrite has been able to compensate successful defendants with its own funds.
By 2012, American Biltrite was a named defendant in 1,338 pending cases, which involved more than 1,800 plaintiffs. At the time, the company estimated that it would spend between $17.7 million and $62 million on asbestos-related litigation and settlements.
In a 2014 case, John Colasanti filed against American Biltrite and six other asbestos companies. The defendants were found responsible for the plaintiff’s asbestos-related disease, and the Onondaga County court determined the companies were liable for 25 percent of the damages. The other portion of fault was found against the plaintiff because he was a lifelong heavy smoker. Smoking has been found to increase the effects of asbestos exposure.
American Biltrite was liable for 3.57% of Colasanti’s $400,000 award, which equated to $15,000.
Congoleum Corporation, a past American Biltrite subsidiary, has also been named in numerous asbestos lawsuits. However, the cost of the litigation and resulting settlements was too much for Congoleum Corporation and the company was forced to file for bankruptcy in 1993. It eventually formed an asbestos trust fund to pay victims, which is still active and accepting claims.
According to the most recent financial documents, American Biltrite estimated it owed nearly $6 million in asbestos lawsuit settlements at year-end 2018. Additionally, American Biltrite estimated it would owe $33.3 million in settlements for future lawsuits. The company continues to be named in asbestos claims.