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From the development of the polio vaccine, to the creation of the atomic bomb, to the flight of the space shuttle Columbia, the products of Fisher Scientific have played a major role in numerous scientific advances of our day. The biotechnology company provides upwards of 600,000 products for the scientific research and clinical laboratory markets, such as pharmaceutical companies, universities and hospitals, in more than 150 countries.

The company traces its roots to 1902, when C.G. Fisher, a recent engineering graduate, established the Scientific Materials Company. At just 20 years old, Fisher saw the need for a company that would provide scientific supplies for Pittsburgh’s many industries, including the burgeoning steel industry. Fisher published his first catalogue in 1904, a document that would set the industry standard and become a recognized scientific reference tool throughout the world. The company was renamed Fisher Scientific Company in 1925, an effort to set it apart from many new companies springing up with generic names.

Fisher Scientific Company History

Company founder C.G. Fisher died in 1965, but not before seeing his company expand to become a leader in manufacturing and distributing scientific products; facilities had opened in New Jersey, Indiana and Montreal. Later that year, the company went public, and three years later stocks were listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Ownership of Fisher Scientific has changed hands several times in the past few decades. In 1981, Fisher Scientific was purchased by Allied Corporation, a diversified chemical corporation. Allied merged with The Signal Companies, Inc. four years later, creating AlliedSignal, Inc., now known as Honeywell International. In 1986, The Henley Group, a new public company comprised of 35 businesses, was spun off of the company, with Fisher Scientific as one of its largest subsidiaries.

Fisher Scientific International was created in 1991, again establishing Fisher as an independent company – a move that set the stage for tremendous growth. In 1995, Fisher Scientific acquired the major diagnostics provider Curtin Matheson Scientific, expanding the company’s reach into the clinical laboratories market. Over the years that followed, the company continued to grow through acquisitions. Sales climbed to a record $1.44 billion in 1995, and to $3.2 billion by 2002 – marking the company’s 48th consecutive year of sales gains.

In 2004, Fisher Scientific merged with Apogent Technologies, and two years later, the resulting company merged with Thermo Electron. Today, Thermo Fisher Scientific employs more than 35,000 people and is based in Waltham, Massachusetts. Its catalogue is printed in eight languages.

Asbestos Exposure Risk at Fisher Scientific

Glance through the pages of one of Fisher Scientific’s well known catalogues from the 1940s or 1950s, and the word “asbestos” is seen in numerous product descriptions. Asbestos – a naturally occurring mineral fiber made of long, thin crystals – was a popular additive in thousands of products as early as the Industrial Revolution of the late 19th century. Manufacturers found the substance to be strong, versatile, durable, and an excellent guard against heat and fire. Plus, because it is so abundant in nature, it was also quite inexpensive.

Fisher Scientific used asbestos in a great number of its laboratory and scientific products, particularly those that required protection from heat and fire. Laboratory workers frequently work with heat sources, such as ovens for sterilizing, or electric or open-flame burners for mixing chemicals. Therefore, they required protective gear such as mittens, gloves and finger cots – all items that Fisher Scientific manufactured with asbestos. Electric heaters and laboratory ovens were outfitted with power cords wrapped in asbestos, and rolls of asbestos paper were sold for insulation and for filtering acid.

Products manufactured or distributed by Fisher Scientific that are believed to have contained asbestos include, but are not limited to:

  • Rolls of asbestos paper
  • Electric heater (“complete with asbestos power cord”)
  • Laboratory Oven (“with air cell asbestos insulation”)
  • Electric Oven (“with air cell asbestos insulation”)
  • Incubator Oven (“the heating chamber is asbestos lined”)
  • Asbestos Ebony Wood
  • Asbestos Board
  • Asbestos Board Mats
  • Asbestos Cement Wood
  • Asbestos Cement
  • Asbestos Cord
  • Asbestos Fiber
  • Asbestos Gloves
  • Asbestos Mittens
  • Asbestos Cloth
  • Asbestos Finger Cots
  • Mineral and Rock Collection (asbestos included in collection)

At the time, people using these products were probably unaware that doing so could be hazardous to their health. By the 1970s, however, the public came to realize that exposure to airborne asbestos can cause severe respiratory diseases. When products made with asbestos are manufactured, or when they age and break down, the long fibers that comprise the mineral are released into the air. If a person inhales those fibers, they can become lodged in his or her lung tissue and plant the seed for deadly diseases like mesothelioma.

Occupations at Risk for Asbestos Exposure

Individuals at risk of asbestos exposure in Fisher Scientific products include factory workers who manufactured the products in one of the company’s plants, as well as people who worked with the products after they were sold. This second category includes a vast range of workers, including scientists, lab technicians, professors, students, equipment repairmen and custodial staff who worked in laboratories, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and research facilities. Truck drivers who transported the goods may even have been affected, as well.

Unfortunately, no amount of asbestos exposure is safe; virtually anyone who worked with or near one of Fisher Scientific’s asbestos-containing products could have been put at risk of developing a serious asbestos-related illness. Sadly, family members can be impacted by asbestos just by coming into contact with the fibers second-hand. Because asbestos dust is known to cling to clothing, shoes and hair, just handling or washing dusty work clothes could endanger a person’s health.

Recent News

In March 2011, Thermo Fisher Scientific announced plans to open a new manufacturing plant in China as part of the company’s expansion within the Asia-Pacific region. The plant will be located within the Suzhou Science and Technology Town and will manufacture laboratory instruments, equipment and consumables for sale within China. The company currently has annual revenues of nearly $11 billion.

As of March 2011, numerous lawsuits had been filed against Thermo Fisher Scientific by individuals who say their health was compromised by working with the company’s asbestos products.

Written By

Tara Strand Senior Content Writer

Tara Strand specializes in researching and writing about asbestos, raising awareness and advocating for a ban.

Full Bio Editorial Guidelines
Reviewed By

Jennifer Lucarelli Legal Advisor and Contributor

Jennifer Lucarelli is a partner at the law firm of Early, Lucarelli, Sweeney & Meisenkothen, specializing in asbestos litigation.

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