American Standard, Inc. Company History
Over the decades that followed, the company diversified considerably. In addition to its regular heating and plumbing products, the company purchased Mosler Safe, a manufacturer of banking safes and security devices; Westinghouse Air Brake Company, a manufacturer of equipment for the railroad, construction and mining industries; and William Lyon Homes, a California-based home building company. In 1966, then-president William Eberle changed the company’s name to American Standard, reflecting the fact that the company was no longer just in the radiator and plumbing businesses.
By the 1980s, American Standard had such a wide variety of businesses that the company’s leadership felt the need to streamline, and once again tried to position the company as a leader in plumbing and air conditioning. In 1983, American Standard bought The Trane Company, the country’s largest supplier of commercial air conditioning products. American Standard went public in 1995, and its sales started to increase; by 1997, the company topped $6 billion in annual sales.
In 2007, American Standard announced plans to break up its three divisions – plumbing, air conditioning and automotive products – keeping only The Trane Company. American Standard’s plumbing products – and its name – were sold to Bain Capital Partners, LLC, and the original American Standard changed its name to Trane. Later that year, Ingersoll-Rand Company Limited acquired Trane for $10.1 billion.
Asbestos Exposure Risk at American Standard
Starting in the late 1800s, manufacturers began using a naturally occurring mineral named asbestos in many of their products. The substance was found to be strong, durable, versatile, good at absorbing sound, and resistant to heat and electricity. The mineral, which is composed of long, fibrous crystals, was mixed into joint compounds and other building supplies, woven into pipe insulation and placed in oven mitts. Literally thousands of products contained the mineral, and thousands of workers handled the material every day.
Unfortunately, we didn’t know until later, in the 1970s, that the fibers that make asbestos such a good binding agent and insulator are also extremely harmful to humans’ health. When asbestos products age, they tend to get friable – that is, brittle and crumbly – and release toxic asbestos dust into the air. When this dust is inhaled, the asbestos fibers in it can get stuck in a person’s lungs and cause serious respiratory problems, such as mesothelioma, an inoperable form of lung cancer.
Like many companies, American Standard used asbestos in several products. American Standard’s Kewanee Boiler Division made boilers with an “asbestos rope gasket,” according to the company’s 1956 catalog. (American Standard would later sell Kewanee Boiler in 1970.) American Standard used asbestos in its railroad brake linings, and Trane Company, an air-conditioning supplier that American Standard purchased in 1983, previously used asbestos air cell paper in insulation for its products. And Ingersoll-Rand, American Standard’s new parent company, used asbestos-containing gaskets and packing in their pumps and compressors.
American Standard products (and products of related companies) that are thought to have contained asbestos include, but are not limited to:
- Kewanee Round Type “R” Boiler (insulated with asbestos rope gasket)
- Cobra Railroad Brake Linings
- Trane Refrigeration Products
- Ingersoll-Rand Pumps, Compressors
Occupations at Risk for Asbestos Exposure
If you or someone you know has been exposed to American Standard’s asbestos-containing products, you may have been put at risk of developing a serious respiratory disease like mesothelioma cancer or asbestosis. Individuals at the greatest risk are those who worked closely with American Standard’s asbestos products, such as individuals who worked in American Standard factories, as well as brake mechanics, heating/ventilation/air-conditioning technicians and boiler fitters that installed or repaired American Standard products out in the field. For many people in these occupations, their exposure to asbestos was compounded by the fact that they are working in close quarters with poor ventilation, such as in boiler rooms or in the inner workings of cars or locomotives.
People who describe working with asbestos products often recall leaving work covered in the white dust that the products let off. Once they went home at night, that dust was also capable of harming their family members. Unfortunately, like secondhand smoke, secondhand exposure to asbestos can be deadly.
American Standard, as well as Trane Inc. and Ingersoll Rand, have been named as a co-defendant in thousands of asbestos-related lawsuits. As of March 2009, there were a recorded 110,133 asbestos-related claims filed against the company. The plaintiffs in these cases say their health, or the health of a family member, was damaged when they were exposed to American Standard’s asbestos-laden products.