The Harbison-Walker Refractories Company was founded in the late 1800's in Pennsylvania. It produced a variety of industrial materials that needed to be able to function during extreme temperatures. This led to the use of asbestos as a key component in their product line, because it has the ability to endure a great amount of heat or cold. Asbestos was a key ingredient in the items the company produced for many years, but it was eventually found to be poisonous to humans.
Any person who gets near asbestos becomes subject to inhaling microscopic bits of the material, which will become lodged within their respiratory system. It can then lead to serious illnesses, make breathing difficult and result in an often deadly asbestos cancer, also known as mesothelioma. Signs of these health issues may not be noticeable for years (due to a long mesothelioma latency period), so it was a long time before the first victims of asbestos poisoning were linked to Harbison-Walker.
Asbestos exposure is the primary cause of mesothelioma but smoking and mesothelioma are also related because people who smoke and are exposed to asbestos are more likely to develop the disease. Those diagnosed with the cancer often receive a poor prognosis from their doctor and because there is no cure, the mesothelioma survival rate statistics are often low. Fortunately, treatment for mesothelioma has improved and there are numerous mesothelioma cancer clinics that offer leading edge care for patients. This includes chemotherapy treatment with Alimta®, Onconase and Navelbine as well as surgical approaches involving extrapleural pneumonectomy and mesothelioma pneumonectomy. Visit our mesothelioma resources section or view our mesothelioma treatment guide for more information.
By 1967, Harbison-Walker had been bought out by Dresser Industries, a Texas based company. Dresser was a subsidiary of Halliburton Energy Services, the company which received national recognition because it was formerly run by Vice President Dick Cheney. As a result of this purchase, Dresser was named as a co-defendant in the asbestos related personal injury claims that were being brought against Harbison-Walker. Company executives felt this meant that Haliburton should play a part in the litigation of all the ongoing lawsuits.
Haliburton became involved in the proceedings, and determined that there were as many as 165,000 unfinished claims, although only about 52,000 were thought to be valid and worthy of a settlement fee. In response, the company spent $4.17 billion to pay off the plaintiffs of the remaining cases. By December of 2004, this amount had been officially approved and disbursed. The CEO of Haliburton declared that "The asbestos chapter in Halliburton's history is closed."
Although Haliburton's involvement with asbestos issues may be over, the results of exposure may still affect people who worked with or around the products produced by Harbison-Walker. It would be prudent to check in with your healthcare provider should you have concerns.