Armstrong International, Inc. History of Asbestos Use
- Years in Operation: 1900 – present
- Location: Three Rivers, Michigan
- Production: Steam traps, liquid drainers, pipe strainers, vents
- Asbestos Trust: No
In 1900, Adam Elliott Armstrong founded Armstrong International in Three Rivers, Michigan. Armstrong was involved in the machining industry for four years before founding Armstrong Machine Works, which later adopted the name Armstrong International.
The company quickly made a name for itself with Adam Armstrong’s unique designs. In 1911, Armstrong invented and patented the first inverted bucket steam trap. This product worked more reliably than other steam traps on the market at the time by using fewer moving parts.
By the 1940s, Armstrong International began to use asbestos components in its steam traps and other products. The company sourced asbestos parts, like gaskets and asbestos cloth, from other manufacturers.
In 1943, Armstrong International humidification systems included asbestos cloth to increase resistance to internal pressure. The company’s inverted bucket steam traps also contained asbestos components as early as 1947 until 1987. Armstrong International’s steam traps were used across many industries, exposing thousands of individuals to asbestos.
Armstrong International’s success exposed thousands of workers to asbestos. A 1957 advertisement claimed the company’s inverted bucket traps were more widely used on process equipment than any other kind of steam trap.
The popularity of Armstrong International’s asbestos-containing steam traps and other products enabled the company to expand across the world. In 1969, the company expanded internationally into Belgium.
In 1982, the company officially changed its name from Armstrong Machine Works to Armstrong International to reflect its broad reach. That same year, the company purchased the New Jersey-based Everlasting Valve Company, an asbestos valve manufacturer which is now also involved in claims of asbestos exposure.
In 1986, Armstrong International partnered with Japanese company, Yoshitake. The deal included Armstrong International marketing Yoshitake’s regulators in North America and Latin America. In return, Yoshitake agreed to market Armstrong International’s steam traps in Asia. When Armstrong International brokered this deal, the company was still using asbestos-containing parts within its products, which may have led to international exposure.
In the mid-1980s, Armstrong International ended its asbestos use after 40 years.
Armstrong International ended asbestos use in its steam traps in 1987. Court records and product catalogs indicate the company’s asbestos use ceased entirely around this time, as well.
Armstrong International began being named in asbestos claims in the 1990s. Despite the growing number of claims, the company continued to expand into new markets. Today, Armstrong International employs 3,000 people globally and continues to be named in asbestos lawsuits.
Armstrong International, Inc. Asbestos Products
Armstrong International designs and manufactures equipment for air, water and steam control. Because asbestos is resistant to heat and pressure, the company used the mineral within its products to withstand these conditions.
Armstrong International’s inverted bucket steam traps contained a single gasket to provide a tight seal and ensure steam wouldn’t escape. The gaskets used in steam traps were made with asbestos from the mid-1940s until 1987.
The company did not make the asbestos components for its products. Instead, it sourced these parts from other asbestos companies, including Johns-Manville.
Other Armstrong International products also contained asbestos parts. The components often combined asbestos with graphite or stainless steel for increased strength. The earliest mention of asbestos in the company’s products was in 1943, though these dates vary by product. Armstrong International stopped all asbestos use by the mid-1980s.
Armstrong International products that contained asbestos components include, but are not limited to:
- Air vents
- Ball float steam traps
- Humidification systems
- Inverted bucket steam traps
- Liquid drainers
- Pipe strainers
Armstrong International, Inc. and Occupational Exposure
Armstrong International’s products may have exposed people from many industries to asbestos. Anyone who worked with the company’s products between the mid-1940s and 1980s may have come into contact with asbestos fibers.
The company used asbestos components, like cloth and gaskets, in its products. These parts were constantly under high pressure and needed to be changed frequently by machinists or parts cleaners. Workers who cleaned, replaced or repaired these parts would have been most at risk of asbestos contact.
Armstrong International products were present in many jobsites, including chemical plants, Navy vessels and paper mills, among others. Employees who worked around machinery in these settings may have experienced occupational asbestos exposure.
Asbestos Litigation Against Armstrong International, Inc.
In the 1990s, Armstrong International began being named in asbestos claims. The company continues to be included in lawsuits filed today. Plaintiffs commonly include Naval machinists, chemical plant workers, plumbers and paper mill masons, among others.
Many of these lawsuits concerned Armstrong International’s responsibility to warn users about its asbestos components, even if not manufactured by the company. For instance, Arthur Whelan worked as a plumber for more than 40 years and was exposed to asbestos through the company’s products.
Whelan recalled working on Armstrong International steam traps used within commercial boilers. His duties included cleaning out and replacing asbestos gaskets in the steam traps. The asbestos would become baked onto the trap with use, so Whelan had to carefully scrape clean the steam traps and remove the gaskets. Maintenance on the traps typically took between one and four hours.
Whelan filed a lawsuit against several asbestos companies, including Armstrong International. Initially, the company claimed it was not responsible for Whelan’s exposure. Armstrong International argued that although the original gaskets contained asbestos, any replacements could have been asbestos-free. However, during testimony, the company conceded that its product catalogs listed asbestos gaskets as the proper replacement part for its steam traps.
Armstrong International attempted to have the case dismissed, but the court denied the motion, giving Whelan an opportunity to receive compensation.
Lawsuits against Armstrong International are ongoing. Successful asbestos exposure claims may result in compensation for the asbestos victims. The company pays claimants with its own funds through insurance policies.