Hercules moved its offices to Passaic, New Jersey in 1994, and a year later transitioned to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan. In 1999, the company purchased Cloroben Chemical Company, a maker of drain cleaning products. Today Hercules continues to offer more than 100 products “designed to make a professional plumber’s job easier and faster.”
Products Manufactured at Hercules Chemical Corporation that Contained Asbestos
Asbestos is a type of silicate mineral made of long crystals that form in large deposits in nature. Use of asbestos – which was named after the Latin word “abestinon,” meaning “inextinguishable” – dates back 4,500 years, when the mineral was used by ancient people in Finland to strengthen pots and cooking utensils. Modern-day use of asbestos dates to the late 1800s, when industrialists realized that the mineral – known for its strength, durability and heat- and fire-resistance – could be of use in many products and machines. One of the many companies to use asbestos in its products was the Hercules Chemical Company, where the mineral was added to furnace cement and putty.
Thousands of people worked with asbestos throughout their careers before it was discovered that the mineral has significant effects on human health. When a person inhales airborne asbestos dust, the mineral’s fibers can become stuck in their lungs and make breathing difficult. In severe cases, exposure to the fibers can cause serious diseases like mesothelioma or asbestosis. Exposure can happen in many different ways. In the case of furnace cement and putty, such as those manufactured by Hercules, asbestos dust is released into the air when these products age, grow brittle and crack. This puts virtually anyone who worked near the materials at risk.
Three products manufactured by Hercules Chemical Company are known to have been manufactured with asbestos until 1983 are:
- For Heat’s Sake
- Hercules Furnace Cement
- Hercules Sta-Put Stainless Putty (available in the 1950s)
Occupations at Risk for Asbestos Exposure
Plumbers are the occupational group most likely to be affected by asbestos exposure in Hercules products, as well as handymen, custodians and anyone who did home plumbing work using the company’s asbestos-containing products. This includes not only repair jobs, but also demolition work – even if the work was done after the company stopped using asbestos in 1983, as the product could have been present in plumbing fixtures long past that date.
Plumbers are at an increased risk of asbestos exposure because of the conditions in which they work. The men and women in this occupation must often work in close, cramped spaces where, without protective gear, they could easily inhale asbestos particles released by aging putties and cements like those made by Hercules.
Sadly, these workers’ family members could also have been put at risk. Asbestos fibers are known to cling to clothing, shoes and hair, so something as simple as washing a worker’s dusty work clothes could have exposed a person to asbestos secondhand.