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Harbison-Walker Refractories Company is a leading supplier of refractory products and services. Refractory products are non-metallic materials used at high temperatures within industrial furnaces. The company used asbestos as an additive in its refractory products from the 1950s to the 1970s.

Harbison-Walker’s years of asbestos use caused many individuals to develop asbestos-related diseases from exposure. As a result, the company faced thousands of asbestos lawsuits. In 2001, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Harbison-Walker and its former parent company, Halliburton Company, created a $5.1 billion asbestos trust fund in 2005 to compensate victims of asbestos-related disease.


01. History of Asbestos Use

Harbison-Walker Refractories Company History of Asbestos Use

Quick Facts
  • Years in Operation: 1865 – present
  • Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Production: Refractory products
  • Asbestos Trust: Yes

Harbison-Walker was originally founded as the Star Fire Brick Company in 1865. The company first made fireclay bricks for large furnaces. In 1875, Samuel P. Harbison and Hay Walker took over operations. The company was renamed Harbison-Walker in 1902.

Early in the company’s history, the Industrial Revolution led to a demand for industrial furnaces in the United States. The demand created new markets for Harbison-Walker refractory products. During this time, the company grew by expanding its product offering and acquiring smaller companies.

During Harbison-Walker’s rise in the 1950s, the company began using asbestos. The mineral was added to a variety of products, including gunning mix and block in 1955, rollboard in 1960 and asbestos cement in 1964.

Asbestos was a key additive to refractory products because of the mineral’s resistance to heat and chemical abrasion. The incorporation of asbestos made Harbison-Walker products valuable in the construction of furnaces and kilns.

In 1967, Harbison-Walker became a subsidiary of Dresser Industries, Inc. At the time of acquisition, Harbison-Walker was still using asbestos in its products.

Harbison-Walker discontinued the use of asbestos in the 1970s. Despite this, years of using the mineral caused thousands of people to experience asbestos exposure.

The Relationship Between Harbison-Walker Refractories Company and Halliburton Company

When Dresser Industries, Inc. purchased Harbison-Walker in 1967, it became responsible for Harbison-Walker’s former and ongoing asbestos use.

Dresser Industries, Inc. spun-off Harbison-Walker in 1992 into a new company called INDRESCO Inc., but agreed to split the cost of asbestos claims with Harbison-Walker’s new owners.

However, in 1998, Harbison-Walker’s new owners demanded financial help from Dresser Industries, Inc. to address claims. That year, Dresser Industries, Inc. merged with Halliburton Company.

After the merger, Halliburton Company became responsible for paying Harbison-Walker’s current and future asbestos claims. The rise in asbestos lawsuits against Harbison-Walker put financial strain on both companies.

Harbison-Walker and Halliburton Company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2001. By 2005, Halliburton Company created a trust fund of $5.1 billion to address asbestos claims. The fund is made up of $2.8 billion in cash and $59.5 million in Halliburton Company shares, along with other funds.

Individuals exposed to asbestos by Harbison-Walker continue to file claims today.

In 2003, Harbison-Walker merged with A.P. Green Industries and North American Refractories Company (NARCO). The trio of companies was named ANH Refractories until 2015. At that time, the group rebranded as HarbisonWalker International (HWI) to take advantage of Harbison-Walker’s name recognition. HarbisonWalker International is still in business today.

02. Asbestos Products

Harbison-Walker Refractories Company Asbestos Products

Harbison-Walker manufactured several asbestos products from 1955 to the 1970s. These products included cement and refractory products used to build industrial furnaces and other machines.

Asbestos was a useful additive to refractory products due to the mineral’s fire- and chemical-resistant characteristics.

Harbison-Walker Refractories Company Products Containing Asbestos

Expand List of Products Containing Asbestos

Product Name Start Year End Year
Block 1955 1970s
Castable Cement 1970s
Cement 1964 1970s
Harbison-Walker Magnex Asbestos Firebrick 1970s
Harbison-Walker Metalkase Chromex 8 1964 1970
Harbison-Walker Micacrete 7/H-W 21-63 1963 1975
Harbison-Walker Nucon 60 Asbestos Firebrick 1970s
Harbison-Walker Nucon Asbestos Firebrick 1970s
Refractory Brick With Spacers 1970s
Refractory Gunning Mix 1955 1970s
Rollboard 1960 1970s

03. Occupational Exposure

Harbison-Walker Refractories Company and Occupational Exposure

The addition of asbestos in Harbison-Walker products exposed thousands of workers to the mineral. Stonemasons and bricklayers were among those most likely to come into contact with the company’s asbestos products.

Harbison-Walker employees who manufactured refractory products also may have experienced exposure. As a result, workers may develop asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma or lung cancer.

Occupations Impacted by Harbison-Walker Refractories’ Asbestos Use
  • Pipefitters
  • Stonemasons
04. Asbestos Litigation

Asbestos Litigation Against Harbison-Walker Refractories Company

Harbison-Walker’s history of asbestos use caused thousands of workers to experience exposure. After the company discontinued asbestos products in the 1970s, Harbison-Walker faced a number of lawsuits from individuals who developed asbestos-related disease.

In 2001, Harbison-Walker was involved in a lawsuit involving five individuals who developed cancer from the company’s asbestos products. A.P. Green Industries and Armstrong Contracting and Supply Corporation were also named in the lawsuit.

Five Claimants Involved in the Lawsuit Against Harbison-Walker
  • Diane Lester experienced secondary asbestos exposure from her father, who worked as a pipefitter.
  • Charles Cargile and Leroy Lane worked as pipefitters for Bethlehem Steel and on multiple jobsites in Baltimore, Maryland. Both men were exposed to Harbison-Walker asbestos products at work and passed away in the late 1990s from cancer.
  • Antonio Colella worked as a bricklayer throughout his life and was exposed to Harbison-Walker’s asbestos-laced bricks.
  • Charles Habig died of cancer in 1999 as a result of asbestos exposure. Habig was a national union leader for the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters, and worked as a pipefitter in Southern Maryland.

At the end of the trial, the jury awarded the victims and their families amounts between $3.5 million and $15 million each. In total, A.P. Green Industries, Armstrong Contracting and Supply Corporation and Harbison-Walker owed the families approximately $40 million in damages.

Shortly after the court’s decision in 2001, Harbison-Walker filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Harbison-Walker and Halliburton Company later established an asbestos trust fund to cover present and future asbestos claims.

05. Asbestos Trust Fund

Harbison-Walker Refractories Company Asbestos Trust Fund

The current payment percentage for successful claims is 60%.

Prior to filing for bankruptcy, Harbison-Walker and its parent company, Dresser Industries, Inc., shared liability for Harbison-Walker’s asbestos claims. In 1998, Halliburton Company merged with Dresser Industries, Inc. and took responsibility for current and future asbestos claims.

As the number of asbestos lawsuits against Harbison-Walker increased, the companies could not support the rising cost of claims. By 2002, Harbison-Walker had paid $54 billion to resolve asbestos claims.

Halliburton Company and Harbison-Walker filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2001. In the following years, Halliburton Company agreed to establish a trust fund of $5.1 billion to pay claimants.

By 2005, claims were being approved and disbursed through the DII Industries, LLC Asbestos PI Trust.

The DII Industries, LLC Asbestos PI Trust pays claimants on behalf of:

  • Dresser Industries, Inc.
  • Halliburton Company
  • Harbison-Walker Refractories
  • Kellogg Brown and Root, Inc.

Victims of asbestos exposure continue to name Harbison-Walker in claims today and the company pays claimants from the established trust fund. While the current payment percentage is 60%, actual payout amounts may vary based on a number of factors including diagnosis, exposure history and law firm settlement history.

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