Congoleum History of Asbestos Use
- Years in Operation: 1886 – present
- Location: Mercerville, New Jersey
- Production: Flooring
- Asbestos Trust: Yes
The Nairn family emigrated to the United States in 1886 to grow Congoleum after operating a factory in Kirkcaldy, Scotland since the mid-1800s. Upon establishing the company in Kearny, New Jersey, they began manufacturing linoleum flooring, which was more durable and easier to clean than canvas floorcloths. In the early 1900s, the Nairn Linoleum Co. merged with a supplier in Pennsylvania who manufactured Congoleum, a simulated wood grain product used to border area rugs and linoleum. The flooring that Congoleum manufactured in the United States, including their wood grain products, vinyl flooring, asphalt tile and sheet flooring, contained hazardous asbestos that left their employees and consumers at risk.
From 1947 to 1983, Congoleum frequently used asbestos in their flooring products. During this time, asbestos materials were used for their durability, especially on surfaces like flooring that are highly trafficked. However, these materials can become broken down or disturbed due to wear and tear or cutting and sanding of the product, which can result in fibers being released into the atmosphere. Exposure to these fibers cause asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma.
Asbestos use in the United States slowed down by 1980, and the company instead relied on alternative flooring materials. Today, the company’s products on the market are FloorScore certified, meaning they abide by air quality regulations regarding toxic and harmful substances like asbestos. Although they stopped using asbestos materials in their flooring, Congoleum’s wide history of use exposed thousands of employees and consumers.
Congoleum Asbestos Products
Congoleum is one of the biggest flooring manufacturers in the United States and manufactured millions of products since their inception. Dozens of these flooring products contained asbestos, including asphalt tile, vinyl asbestos tile and sheet flooring with asbestos felt.
Congoleum and Occupational Exposure
Due to the widespread use of asbestos in vinyl flooring throughout the 1900s, thousands of workers at Congoleum may have been exposed to asbestos. Workers also put their families at risk of secondary asbestos exposure, which occurs when workers bring home asbestos fibers on their hair or clothing. In the home, harmful asbestos fibers can also be released when homeowners complete do-it-yourself projects, such as replacing outdated Congoleum flooring.
Asbestos Litigation Against Congoleum
Since Congoleum produced many asbestos flooring products, employees and others began to speak out about illnesses caused by asbestos exposure. Congoleum Corporation filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1993 due to asbestos exposure claims. Although the company did label their materials to indicate a presence of asbestos, workers and consumers weren’t truly aware of the risks they could face when cutting, sanding or wearing down flooring. This resulted in a series of lawsuits against the corporation.
One such case came in 1996 when Robert Ehret, a floor covering contractor, filed a lawsuit against Congoleum and other flooring manufacturers. Ehret was diagnosed with pericardial mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos from several flooring manufacturers. Ehret claimed his disease was caused by flooring he installed, removed and sanded 20 – 30 years prior to being diagnosed with mesothelioma.
While Congoleum tried to deny their involvement in Ehret’s exposure and blamed other manufacturers, the judge refused to dismiss the case. Ultimately, the jury assigned Congoleum 25% fault, and 12.5% each to the other companies involved, including Armstrong, Amtico, Azrock, Mannington, Flintkote and Kentile. Ehret died during the trial, but his family was awarded a total of $3.3 million in damages, $817,896 of which was awarded from Congoleum.
Since these lawsuits, Congoleum Corporation has established a trust fund to settle thousands of claims. Filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy also allowed the company to propose a reorganization plan for the business.
Congoleum Asbestos Trust Fund
Although the company filed for bankruptcy in 1993, Congoleum Corporation’s trust fund was not established until 2010, when the reorganization plan was approved. The Congoleum Plan Trust was initially funded with $270 million to settle lawsuits for mesothelioma victims and other personal injury cases.
As of January 1, 2019, the Congoleum Plan Trust Distribution Procedures established average values for claims involving specific diseases, including mesothelioma, that account for inflation.
|Mesothelioma (Level VIII)||$139,800|
|Lung Cancer (Level VII)||$45,800|
|Lung Cancer 2 (Level VI)||$12,300|
|Other Cancer (Level V)||$15,000|
|Severe Asbestosis (Level IV)||$37,000|
The figures provided for payouts reflect base-level values. Actual values may be higher based on a claimant’s specific case. Factors including, but not limited to, age, exposure, type and firm settlement history are all taken into account during a lawsuit.