01. History of Asbestos Use
Fisher Scientific History of Asbestos Use
- Years in Operation: 1902 – present
- Location: Waltham, Massachusetts
- Production: Scientific tools
- Asbestos Trust: No
Chester Fisher was a 20-year-old engineering graduate when he founded Scientific Materials Company out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1902. Fisher’s company was the first of its kind to offer equipment and testing agents to laboratories in the Pittsburgh area.
The company’s first products consisted of laboratory measurement tools, such as microscopes, pipettes and balances. After a period of growth, Fisher renamed his company Fisher Scientific Company in 1925.
As the company continued to grow and acquire other businesses, Fisher Scientific began manufacturing and selling chemicals in 1940. The company would go on to supply chemicals used in the Manhattan Project, the United States’ plan to create the world’s first atomic bomb.
Throughout the mid-20th century, Fisher Scientific incorporated asbestos into many of its laboratory products. Asbestos fibers were utilized in laboratory equipment as an insulator to protect individuals from burns and chemical exposure.
The company manufactured and sold asbestos gloves, burner pads, fume hoods, ovens and other laboratory products insulated with asbestos.
Schools, hospitals and commercial businesses used Fisher Scientific’s asbestos-containing equipment. This led to workers in a number of fields experiencing exposure to the company’s asbestos products.
In the 1970s, the first asbestos regulations were passed and the general public began to understand the health risks of asbestos. According to Fisher Scientific internal memos from 1977, the company thought asbestos-containing products would no longer be marketable once the public knew asbestos exposure had serious health implications.
At that time, Fisher Scientific made the decision to phase out its asbestos products.
Despite ending its asbestos use by 1980, Fisher Scientific would face numerous asbestos lawsuits. Former employees exposed during the manufacturing process and consumers of the company’s asbestos products filed claims against Fisher Scientific after developing asbestos diseases. The company continues to face new claims.
Fisher Scientific was purchased by Allied Corporation in 1981 and was owned by the company until 1991. The company then reemerged as a public entity under the name Fisher Scientific International, Inc.
In 2006, Fisher Scientific merged with Thermo Electron Corporation. The new company, called Thermo Fisher Scientific, continues to produce products under the Fisher Scientific brand.
02. Asbestos Products
Fisher Scientific Asbestos Products
Asbestos was commonly found in Fisher Scientific products and laboratory equipment. The mineral was added to laboratory and scientific equipment as a barrier against high heat and chemicals.
Internal memos from Fisher Scientific dated as early as 1971 discuss the link between asbestos and cancer. However, the company continued to sell asbestos-containing products until 1980.
Instead of labeling its products as hazardous, Fisher Scientific’s catalogs stated its asbestos gloves and other products “met OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] requirements.” This label would appear on asbestos-containing products in the catalog until 1979.
Courts later questioned the company about the wording used in its catalogs because OSHA asbestos standards dictated workplace procedure and not the sale of asbestos products. Fisher Scientific was accused of misleading customers that its products were safe.
Although Fisher Scientific’s asbestos products were discontinued in 1980, these products may have been used in laboratories and schools for many years after. There is no record that Fisher Scientific’s products were labeled as dangerous or as containing asbestos.
Specific products made by Fisher Scientific that contained asbestos include, but are not limited to:
- Asbestos board
- Asbestos board mats
- Asbestos cement
- Asbestos cement wood
- Asbestos clamps
- Asbestos cloth
- Asbestos cord
- Asbestos ebony wood
- Asbestos finger cots
- Asbestos gloves
- Asbestos mittens
- Electric heater (asbestos power cord)
- Electric oven (air cell asbestos insulation)
- Fume hoods
- Incubator oven (asbestos-lined heating chamber)
- Laboratory oven (air cell asbestos insulation)
- Mineral and rock collection
- Rolls of asbestos paper
03. Occupational Exposure
Fisher Scientific and Occupational Exposure
Exposure to Fisher Scientific’s asbestos-containing products may have occurred in a number of laboratory environments. Fisher Scientific sold its products to government and healthcare institutions. The company also had an education division, which designed products for school classrooms.
Many workers were at risk of exposure from Fisher Scientific products. Individuals working in a laboratory environment could have been exposed to asbestos when using asbestos gloves, fume hoods and asbestos heating pads, among other products.
Employees of Fisher Scientific were also exposed to asbestos during the manufacturing process. According to records, the company monitored its airborne asbestos levels. Records show at least two occasions when employees were sent from a plant in Pennsylvania to Pittsburgh Diagnostic Clinic for respiratory X-rays due to potential exposure.
The company continued to manufacture asbestos products until 1979.
04. Asbestos Litigation
Asbestos Litigation Against Fisher Scientific
Fisher Scientific has been named in a number of asbestos lawsuits by individuals exposed to its asbestos-containing products. The company continues to face lawsuits from customers and former Fisher Scientific employees exposed to asbestos on the job.
In one case from 2008, the family of Alphonse Tripoli, a former Fisher Scientific employee, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the company. Tripoli passed away in January of 2006 after being diagnosed with mesothelioma.
Koppers Co., Inc. and Dravo Corporation were also named as defendants in the lawsuit. Beginning in 1968, Tripoli worked on jobsites managed by the three companies where asbestos-containing products were present.
Tripoli’s wife and son were awarded $7 million in total damages from all three defendants. Koppers Co., Inc. was found liable for 40% of the damages, while Dravo Corporation and Fisher Scientific were each responsible for 10%. Koppers Holdings Inc. was found most liable because the company knew about the existence of asbestos in its building as early as 1918.
Another former Fisher Scientific employee, George Baroni, passed away from pleural mesothelioma in 2005 as a result of occupational asbestos exposure. Baroni worked for Fisher Scientific from 1959 to 1994. His family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the company in 2006.
Fisher Scientific was one of five companies cited as responsible for Baroni’s asbestos exposure. Three of the companies settled with Baroni’s family out of court, including:
- F.B. Wright Co.
- George V. Hamilton Inc.
- Pittsburgh Gage & Supply Co.
A fifth company, Taylored Industries, Inc. of Allegheny County, has not settled.
The Baroni family was awarded $226,000 in the case against Fisher Scientific, which included wrongful death and loss of consortium damages.
Fisher Scientific does not currently have an asbestos trust fund, but uses its own funds to pay out asbestos-related settlements and claims. The company continues to face new asbestos and mesothelioma claims.