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Foster Wheeler Corporation was created in 1927 through the merger of Wheeler Condenser & Engineering Company and Power Specialty Company. The new company manufactured boilers and steam management systems. Foster Wheeler used asbestos insulation and gaskets in its machines from the mid-1940s into the 1970s.

Foster Wheeler’s asbestos use affected the health of many workers. Asbestos components in the company’s machines resulted in occupational exposure across multiple industries. Foster Wheeler’s boilers were frequently used by the United States Navy and power companies. In the 1970s, Foster Wheeler began to be named in lawsuits related to its asbestos use. These claims continue today and the company compensates victims with its own funds.


01. History of Asbestos Use

Foster Wheeler Corporation History of Asbestos Use

Quick Facts
  • Years in Operation: 1927 – present
  • Location: Aberdeen, United Kingdom
  • Production: Boilers
  • Asbestos Trust: No

Foster Wheeler was incorporated in 1927 in New York City. The company formed following a merger between Wheeler Condenser & Engineering Company and Power Specialty Company.

Power Specialty Company was founded by the Foster family and built power heaters. Wheeler Condenser & Engineering Company manufactured condensers and pumps. Both of Foster Wheeler’s predecessors supplied equipment, such as condensers and boilers, to branches of the United States Military. This paved the way for the company’s partnership with the U.S. Navy.

Shortly after forming, Foster Wheeler began to expand its product line. In 1931, it acquired D. Connelly Boiler Company. The company’s growing product line then included feedwater heaters, steam generator components, evaporators and cooling towers.

Foster Wheeler’s asbestos use began in the mid-1930s. The company supplied asbestos-containing boilers for Mahan Class ships, which began construction in 1934, and Dunlap Class ships, starting in 1935.

The Navy required asbestos in products “necessary to fill Defense orders,” though it recognized the health risks associated with the mineral. The Navy required amosite, chrysotile and blue asbestos in its components.

During World War II, the company continued to produce asbestos-containing boilers for Naval ships.

After the war, the company expanded internationally and continued to use asbestos in its products. According to a former employee, Foster Wheeler used asbestos extensively in the 1950s.

Foster Wheeler boilers included many asbestos-containing components, including asbestos sheet gaskets, woven asbestos tape, asbestos millboard, asbestos valve packing, asbestos manifold seals and asbestos rope.

In the late 1950s, Foster Wheeler faced engineering failures that hurt its reputation and sales. However, the company continued to provide boilers and other asbestos-containing equipment to the Navy during these years.

The engineering issues were eventually resolved and Foster Wheeler continued to expand internationally throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

In 1962, the company moved headquarters to Livingston, New Jersey. Five years later, it acquired Glitsch International, Inc., a manufacturer of fractionation equipment and pressure valves. Glitsch International’s Dallas, Texas site was confirmed to have used asbestos.

Due to Foster Wheeler’s prolonged use of asbestos, the company was first named in asbestos-related lawsuits in the 1970s. Despite these claims, reports confirm Foster Wheeler continued using asbestos throughout the 1970s.

Foster Wheeler used asbestos from the mid-1940s to the 1970s.

After ending its asbestos use, Foster Wheeler expanded into growing industries and sold underperforming subsidiaries. In 1990, the company acquired Barsotti’s Inc., an asbestos abatement provider. Foster Wheeler also sold one of its known asbestos subsidiaries, Glitsch International.

In 2014, Foster Wheeler was purchased by AMEC, a British engineering and project management company. The companies were subsequently acquired by the John Wood Group PLC.

The Wood Group, including Amec Foster Wheeler, currently operates in 60 countries and employs 55,000 people. Today, asbestos claims are still filed against the company.

02. Asbestos Products

Foster Wheeler Corporation Asbestos Products

A large portion of Foster Wheeler’s asbestos use occurred due to its partnership with the Navy, supplying boilers and condensers.

During much of the 20th century, the Navy required boilers built for military contracts contain certain asbestos products. These machines often included asbestos-containing insulation, gaskets, seals and packing material.

Foster Wheeler sourced the asbestos components from other asbestos companies. For instance, some asbestos insulation was supplied by J. Graves Insulation Company.

Due to its involvement in numerous industries, Foster Wheeler required large quantities of asbestos materials. In October of 1969 alone, the company purchased 4,800 bundled packages of Unibestos pipe covering to be used in a power plant in Pennsylvania.

Foster Wheeler Corporation Products Containing Asbestos
Expand List of Products Containing Asbestos

Product Name Start Year End Year
Condensers
Foster Wheeler Boilers
Foster Wheeler MWI – Hi Temp Bonding Cement 1967 1968
Foster Wheeler Quik-Set Fitting Cement 1967 1970
Foster Wheeler Quik-Set Insulating Cement
Foster Wheeler Super 48 Insulating Cement 1970
Steam drums
Steam generators
Surface condensers
Water drums

03. Occupational Exposure

Foster Wheeler Corporation and Occupational Exposure

Foster Wheeler’s long history of asbestos use exposed thousands of employees to the dangerous mineral. Its boilers were present in plants across the world, putting workers in various industries at risk. During maintenance, workers used jackhammers to remove the insulation, causing asbestos to become airborne.

Workers in the maritime, power and energy sectors are most at risk of occupational asbestos exposure from Foster Wheeler boilers.

Occupations Impacted by Foster Wheeler’s Asbestos Use
04. Asbestos Litigation

Asbestos Litigation Against Foster Wheeler Corporation

Asbestos claims against Foster Wheeler began in 1970 and continue to be filed today. At the end of 2018, there were 64,370 open claims against the company.

To ensure there is enough money to compensate claimants, Foster Wheeler projects its future asbestos lawsuit costs up to ten years in advance. In 2018, the company reported net asbestos-related liabilities of $398.1 million.

Foster Wheeler’s history of asbestos used affected thousands of employees, including Richard Walmach. From 1965 to 1967, Walmach worked as an apprentice marine machinist in Bremerton, Washington at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. He departed the shipyard to serve two years active duty in the Navy, stationed in Long Beach, California.

After his Navy service, Walmach returned to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. He worked at the shipyard until his retirement in 2002.

Foster Wheeler supplied boilers containing asbestos materials to the Navy during Walmach’s military service and employment.

As a machinist, Walmach worked in close proximity to boilers. Maintenance workers used jackhammers to remove the boilers’ asbestos insulation, creating large quantities of asbestos dust, which Walmach inhaled.

In January 2006, Walmach was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma and died from the disease six months later. Walmach’s family then filed lawsuits against several asbestos companies.

Richard Walmach’s Trial Award
  • Noneconomic damages: $2,200,000
  • Punitive damages: $2,000,000
  • Economic damages: $950,895.26

After an appeal process, the Walmach family was awarded $5.2 million, including $2 million in punitive damages. Foster Wheeler was liable for $2.66 million of the total award. This was the first time Foster Wheeler was required to pay punitive damages, which are meant to punish the defendant and deter future defendants.

The company’s wide use of asbestos led to exposure within a variety of fields. For instance, millwright Valent Rabovsky was exposed to Foster Wheeler asbestos products while working in Pennsylvania power plants from 1951 to 1986.

In 1974, Rabovksy worked on multiple asbestos-containing Foster Wheeler boilers. Rabovsky’s work did not specifically involve asbestos maintenance. However, when workers removed asbestos from the boilers above him, asbestos fibers became airborne.

In 2009, Rabovsky was diagnosed with mesothelioma and died three years later. His daughter filed claims against multiple asbestos companies, including Foster Wheeler, Crane Co., Westinghouse, Honeywell and Goulds Pumps.

The jury found the companies guilty and assigned Foster Wheeler 20% liability. The company later settled with the Rabovsky family.

Today, claims against Foster Wheeler continue to be filed.

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