Babcock & Wilcox History of Asbestos Use
- Years in Operation: 1867 – present
- Location: Baberton, Ohio
- Production: Boilers
- Asbestos Trust: Yes
Babcock & Wilcox was formed following the ideas of George Babcock and Stephen Wilcox to create a safe, but effective, boiler. The pair received their first patent in 1856, and their company Babcock & Wilcox was officially formed in 1867 in Providence, Rhode Island. Unfortunately, in their effort to create safe energy, they used asbestos insulation in their products.
It wasn’t long until the founders moved to New York City, where they officially relocated the company’s headquarters. Babcock & Wilcox initially found success selling their boilers to sugar refineries; however, with the advent of electric companies, they quickly broke into the electric industry.
In 1880, the company sold its boilers to Thomas Edison for use in his Menlo Park, New Jersey, laboratory and the Brush Electric Company in Philadelphia. The boilers at both locations contained dangerous asbestos fibers. The early 1880s also saw Babcock & Wilcox bring their asbestos-containing boilers outside the United States. In 1881, the company experienced international expansion for the first time, opening a location in Glasgow, Scotland.
As Babcock & Wilcox continued to grow, they supplied their boilers to not only sugar refineries and electric companies, but also for the first New York City subway system, in the Hoover Dam and aboard U.S. Navy vessels. During World War I, Babcock & Wilcox produced more than 500 naval boilers.
By World War II, more than 4,000 of the 5,400 major U.S. vessels constructed for the war featured Babcock & Wilcox boilers. Due to the wide use of the company’s asbestos products aboard military ships, many veterans have experienced asbestos exposure. These veterans are now at risk of developing an asbestos-related disease.
The company continued to expand internationally, with factories in South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. With each new expansion, the number of people exposed to asbestos fibers from Babcock & Wilcox products increased. The company didn’t phase the toxin out of their production process until the 1970s.
The first asbestos lawsuit was filed against Babcock & Wilcox in 1982, followed by thousands more. The cost of the litigation led them to file for bankruptcy in 2000. Although Babcock & Wilcox doesn’t use asbestos anymore, they continue to deal with the impact of their past use.
Babcock & Wilcox Asbestos Products
In the early 1900s, many companies used asbestos fibers in their products as a cheap insulator. Adding asbestos fibers to materials increased not only their insulating abilities, but also durability and heat- and fire-resistance.
Babcock & Wilcox used asbestos fibers to insulate their groundbreaking boilers until the early 1970s. The boilers featured asbestos insulation, block, heat seals, gaskets and gauges, among other items.
Products manufactured by Babcock & Wilcox known to have contained asbestos include:
- Babcock & Wilcox Company Stirling Boiler
- Babcock & Wilcox Gauges
- Babcock & Wilcox Marine Boilers
- Babcock & Wilcox FJ Furnace Boilers
- Babcock & Wilcox Integral Furnace Boilers
- Babcock & Wilcox Type E Pulverizers
- Babcock & Wilcox Steam-Generating Boiler Products
- Babcock & Wilcox Insulating Firebrick
Babcock & Wilcox and Occupational Exposure
Employees that worked for Babcock & Wilcox, or with their products, between the company’s founding in 1867 and when they stopped using asbestos in the 1970s, may have experienced occupational asbestos exposure.
Exposures may have occurred within a variety of jobsites, including Babcock & Wilcox factories. The asbestos-containing Babcock & Wilcox boilers were used in refineries, foundries, power plants, nuclear facilities and ships around the world. Those who installed or serviced the Babcock & Wilcox boilers may also have experienced occupational exposure. Any person working with or around Babcock & Wilcox asbestos products may be at risk of developing an asbestos-related disease.
Asbestos Litigation Against Babcock & Wilcox
The first asbestos lawsuit was filed against Babcock & Wilcox in 1982. At that time, the company was quietly settling claims and compensating victims outside of the courtroom. The company continued dealing with their asbestos litigation problems in this fashion for more than 10 years. By the end of 1999, they had settled approximately 340,000 claims. These asbestos settlements cost the company, and their insurer, more than $1.6 billion dollars.
Elmore v. Babcock & Wilcox
- A 1996 asbestos case against Babcock & Wilcox.
- Cleo Elmore, a former U.S. Navy construction worker, was diagnosed with mesothelioma after his 30 years of asbestos exposure.
- Elmore worked with asbestos while serving in the Navy from 1946 – 1970.
- Elmore died during the trial, however, his estate was awarded more than $2.8 million dollars from Babcock & Wilcox and the other asbestos companies named in the suit.
On February 22, 2000, the asbestos-related costs began to be too much for Babcock & Wilcox and the company filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. The company remained in bankruptcy until 2006. In those six years, more than 200,000 asbestos-related claims were filed against Babcock & Wilcox.
Babcock & Wilcox Asbestos Trust Fund
In order to emerge from bankruptcy, Babcock & Wilcox formed an asbestos trust fund as part of their reorganization plan. The asbestos trust fund was formed on February 22, 2006. The trust fund was initially funded with $1.85 billion dollars to pay successful asbestos-related claims filed against the company.
The asbestos trust pays a set percentage of each successful award granted to an asbestos victim. This ensures the solvency of the trust for future claimants. The current base payment percentage for the Babcock & Wilcox Asbestos Personal Injury Settlement Trust is 8.8% of the amount awarded. However, claimants may receive compensation higher than this base payment percentage based on a number of factors, including but not limited to, age, exposure, type and firm settlement history.
The Babcock & Wilcox trust is operational and continues to accept and pay claims today.