ASARCO, LLC History of Asbestos Use
- Years in Operation: 1899 – present
- Location: Tucson, Arizona
- Production: Metals, mining
- Asbestos Trust: Yes
The American Smelting and Refining Company, now known as ASARCO, was formed by Henry H. Rogers, John D. Rockefeller, Adolph Lewisohn and Leonard Lewisohn in 1899. For many years, the company’s products were asbestos-free.
In these early years, the company had success, until a two-month-long strike stopped production. The financial impact led to a merger with M. Guggenheim’s Sons, which bought a majority share of the company. Under the Guggenheims’ leadership, with the family serving as chairman and president among other roles on the board, ASARCO entered a prosperous period.
During this time, ASARCO expanded into more industries by buying refineries and mines.
By 1929, ASARCO was the largest refinery of nonferrous metals (metals that do not contain iron) in the world. However, after the Great Depression, ASARCO began to struggle economically, even facing $4 million in debt by 1932.
During the 1950s, ASARCO began to focus its efforts more heavily on mining. In 1952, the company entered the asbestos industry with Black Lake in Quebec. The ASARCO subsidiary, Lake Asbestos of Quebec, operated the asbestos mine. The company turned a two-mile lake in Southern Quebec into an open-pit asbestos mine, one of the largest in the world. The project cost $32.5 million to complete and the location supplied about 100,000 tons of asbestos each year. The opening of the Black Lake asbestos mine increased the world’s supply of the mineral by 7%.
ASARCO’s involvement in the asbestos industry continued with its acquisition of Cement Asbestos Products Co, or CAPCO, in October 1974. CAPCO had been producing asbestos products since 1965, including asbestos cement, under the brand name CAPCO, starting in 1969. The company continued to produce asbestos cement pipe at their Alabama facility and a Van Buren, Arkansas site until 1993. CAPCO asbestos products were shipped to customers through March 1994.
ASARCO’s involvement in the asbestos industry led the company to face numerous asbestos-related lawsuits. Workers and consumers developed asbestos-related diseases after being exposed to the mineral through ASARCO products, as well as goods manufactured by its subsidiaries such as CAPCO. The vast number of claims against the company led ASARCO to file for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in 1999. Today, the company remains operational and focuses primarily on producing copper.
ASARCO, LLC Asbestos Products
For the first 50 years that ASARCO was operational, its products and production process were free from asbestos. However, beginning in 1952, the company started mining the mineral. ASARCO’s raw asbestos materials increased the world’s supply of the mineral by 7%. The company’s raw asbestos was used in numerous products made by other asbestos companies.
ASARCO later acquired CAPCO, which was the sole producer of asbestos cement piping in the United States for some time.
ASARCO, LLC and Occupational Exposure
All ASARCO employees working from 1952 through 1994 may have been exposed to asbestos while on the job. During those years, ASARCO employed thousands of workers. Today, around 2,000 people work for the company.
In addition to ASARCO employees, those who worked for other companies that used ASARCO-mined raw asbestos were also at risk of asbestos exposure. Much of the asbestos mined at the Black Lake mine was imported to the United States, supplying asbestos manufacturers with their raw materials.
CAPCO employees may also have been exposed to asbestos while at work. The company produced asbestos cement piping prior to ASARCO’s acquisition and continued to use the mineral until 1993. Employees involved with any part of the production process may be at risk of developing an asbestos-related disease, like mesothelioma.
Asbestos Litigation Against ASARCO, LLC
ASARCO and CAPCO’s asbestos use has led the two companies to be identified in thousands of asbestos-related lawsuits. CAPCO was first named in asbestos lawsuits in the early 1980s, and ASARCO began to see the legal ramifications of its asbestos use in the late 1990s.
The numerous lawsuits against them led ASARCO and more than 20 of its subsidiaries to file for bankruptcy protection. Among others, ASARCO subsidiaries that filed for bankruptcy include:
- Alta Mining and Development Company
- Blackhawk Mining and Development Company, Limited
- Green Hill Cleveland Mining Company
- ASARCO Oil and Gas Company, Inc.
- ASARCO Exploration Company, Inc.
- Southern Peru Holdings, LLC
ASARCO filed for bankruptcy on April 11, 2005, and continued to see thousands of new asbestos and mesothelioma lawsuits. In 2015 alone, the company was named in more than 14,000 asbestos claims.
ASARCO, LLC Asbestos Trust Fund
ASARCO formed an asbestos trust fund as part of its reorganization plan, which was approved prior to the company’s emergence from bankruptcy. The trust fund, ASARCO Asbestos Personal Injury Settlement Trust, was formed in 2009 and initially funded with $830 million.
The trust was formed to compensate asbestos victims who successfully filed claims against the company. In 2008, one year prior to the formation of the trust, the company faced 95,000 asbestos-related lawsuits. The trust has continued to receive thousands of claims each year.
The trust fund pays claimants a certain percentage of their award in order to ensure the solvency of the fund for future victims. The current payment percentage of the ASARCO trust is 35%. However, some payment amounts may be greater due to a claimant’s age, exposure type and the law firm’s settlement history.