Foster Wheeler Company History
The present company of Foster Wheeler was formed in 1927 by the merger of the Power Specialty Company and the Wheeler Condenser and Engineering Company. The Foster family founded the Water Works Supply Company In 1884 which was eventually replaced by the Power Specialty Company. The Wheeler Condenser and Engineering Company was founded in 1891. Prior to merging, both companies were successful in establishing contracts with the U.S. Navy, supplying vessels with steam condensers and boilers.
Throughout the 20th century, the company expanded its product lines and areas of business through various acquisitions. The company expanded internationally beginning in 1949 with the establishment of Foster Wheeler France.
Today Foster Wheeler is well-regarded in its field, delivering high-quality, technologically advanced services and products both on time and on budget. Foster Wheeler’s adjusted net income at the end of 2009 was $377 million.
Products Manufactured by Foster Wheeler that Contained Asbestos
Although Foster Wheeler is primarily a service provider, they do produce some products including steam generators, marine boilers, surface condensers, and steam drums. Products manufactured before the 1970’s were often insulated with asbestos which is a tremendous heat insulator, is fire resistant and inexpensive. The gaskets and packing materials of boilers and other products often contained asbestos as well. Use of asbestos in new products is currently banned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but because these types of products, especially boilers, typically have a long lifespan, there are many in use today that still contain asbestos. Foster Wheeler equipment is frequently used in ships, refineries, and chemical plants.
Foster Wheeler products that may have contained asbestos in the insulation, gaskets, or packing include:
- Steam generators
- Marine boilers
- Surface condensers
- Steam drums
Occupations at Risk for Asbestos Exposure
Workers involved in the manufacture, maintenance, and repair of steam generators, marine boilers, surface condensers, or steam drums are at an increased risk for exposure to asbestos. These types of workers may be referred to as boilermakers. Any time the insulation or gasket of an asbestos-containing product is disturbed, there is potential to release asbestos into the air. Asbestos may be released if the insulation is damaged, or during repair or removal of the equipment’s insulation. Boilers are often installed in poorly ventilated spaces which can increase the concentration of airborne asbestos in the room and thus increase exposure to the worker.
Prolonged exposure to asbestos fibers increases the risk of developing asbestos-related diseases including lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis (scar tissue in the lung). Mesothelioma, or asbestos cancer, can be difficult to diagnosis and symptoms may not emerge until years after the initial exposure. Symptoms may include chest pain, chronic cough, and blood in the lung fluid. An oncologist or mesothelioma specialist can properly diagnose the disease and treatments are available.
According to the Foster Wheeler 2009 Annual Report, the company reported total liabilities of $376,500 due to asbestos claims. Foster Wheeler subsidiaries in the UK and US are defendants in a number of asbestos-related lawsuits. In the US, there were 130,760 open claims at the beginning of 2009.