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Congoleum Corporation was founded in 1886 by Michael Nairn in Kirkcaldy, Scotland, which was once the largest linoleum producer in the world. As the company continued to grow, they utilized asbestos materials in their flooring products. Today, the company serves as one of the nation’s leaders in vinyl commercial and house flooring manufacturing.

The company originally specialized in linoleum flooring, but as the popularity of asbestos use grew in home construction materials in the 1900s, Congoleum began expanding their product offering. They ultimately trademarked their material, called Congoleum, that was used as an alternative to linoleum and floorcloth. They are also credited for their introduction of no-wax floors and chemically embossed vinyl tiles into the market. The corporation is still in operation today, and halted production of asbestos products in the 1980s after facing several lawsuits due to exposure from their asbestos-containing floor tiles.


Congoleum History of Asbestos Use

Quick Facts
  • 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 Products Containing Asbestos
Expand List of Products Containing Asbestos
Product Name Start Year End Year
Congoleum Asbestos Tiles 1959 1975
Congoleum Firechek Bulletin Board Cork 1962

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.

Occupations Affected by Congoleum Asbestos Use

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.

Disease Average Value
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.

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