Hollingsworth & Vose Company History of Asbestos Use
- Years in Operation: 1881 – present
- Location: Walpole, Massachusetts
- Production: Paper
- Asbestos Trust: No
Hollingsworth & Vose Company began its operations prior to its incorporation in 1892. In 1843, Mark Hollingsworth and his sons, John and Lyman Hollingsworth, were granted a patent to manufacture paper from manila fibers. The fibers are obtained from abacá leaves, a variety of bananas also called manila hemp. This innovation by the Hollingsworth family was the springboard for much of the company’s success.
In the following years, the company continued to grow and its innovations became fruitful for the Hollingsworth family in the paper market, as well as in producing insulating rope. Lyman and John’s nephew, Zachary T. Hollingsworth, purchased a paper mill in 1871 in East Walpole, Massachusetts to carry out the family’s business and meet production demands. In 1881, Hollingsworth formed a partnership with Charles Vose, his sales manager, creating Hollingsworth & Vose Company.
The company did not incorporate until 1892, taking the paper and rope business public. Hollingsworth & Vose specialized in industrial paper products and began using asbestos in certain applications in the 1950s. By the mid-1950s, the company manufactured 25 tons of industrial paper for filters, cable and electrical insulation and artificial leather per day.
During World War II, Hollingsworth & Vose became involved in war efforts by manufacturing asbestos-containing gas masks. The masks were used to protect those in the Army and Navy from hazardous gases, and asbestos was utilized for its density and durability. The company also produced asbestos-containing filters for cigarette brands, using the additive for similar reasons.
Starting in the early 1950s, Hollingsworth & Vose established a partnership with Lorillard Tobacco Company to manufacture Micronite cigarette filters for its Kent cigarette brand. Cigarette manufacturers use filters in their products in order for smokers to experience milder smoke upon inhaling, as well as to filter out large tar particles.
Hollingsworth & Vose manufactured asbestos-containing filters for Kent cigarettes through its subsidiary, H&V Specialties, in its own factory locations. Although both companies stopped manufacturing and producing asbestos-containing filters around 1957, thousands of factory workers and smokers were already exposed to asbestos fibers from the companies’ joint venture.
Today, Hollingsworth & Vose specializes in air filtration systems for commercial, industrial and home usage. Although the company has since halted asbestos use, thousands of workers, smokers and other individuals were exposed to asbestos via its products. The company is still mentioned in lawsuits and pays victims who were wrongfully exposed.
Hollingsworth & Vose Company Asbestos Products
Hollingsworth & Vose products contained asbestos until at least the late 1950s. The company utilized a rare form of asbestos called crocidolite asbestos for its cigarette filters. Approximately 10 mg of the mineral could be found in each filter.
It is estimated that more than 13 billion asbestos-containing cigarettes from Kent were smoked from 1952 to at least 1957, when the company halted the production of asbestos filters.
Hollingsworth & Vose gas masks also contained crocidolite asbestos, as its fibers were dense enough to filter out hazardous gases. The tradeoff of this, however, is that many individuals were exposed to asbestos fibers instead of harmful gases. This was also the case for many of the air filtration paper products manufactured by Hollingsworth & Vose.
Asbestos-containing products manufactured by Hollingsworth & Vose include, but are not limited to:
- “Micronite” cigarette filters, sold in Kent cigarettes from 1952 – 1956
- Gas masks
- AEC cellulose asbestos paper
Hollingsworth & Vose Company and Occupational Exposure
Veterans were frequently exposed to asbestos-containing products throughout their time of service, and Hollingsworth & Vose gas masks contributed to that exposure. Troops frequently wore gas masks to protect themselves from mustard gas and sulfur mustard, used for chemical warfare. Though the masks filtered out harmful gases, troops often inhaled asbestos fibers that were used to make the masks.
Many individuals who were not involved in wartime efforts were also at risk of asbestos exposure. In addition to smokers, factory workers, HVAC workers and individuals who worked with air filtration systems were also frequently exposed to the asbestos fibers used by Hollingsworth & Vose. The potential for secondary exposure was also present with the company’s products via secondhand smoke.
Asbestos Litigation Against Hollingsworth & Vose Company
Hollingsworth & Vose Company was mentioned in thousands of lawsuits for its asbestos-containing products, many of which were related to its cigarette filters.
In one such case, Charles M.P. Connor was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 1997 and died two years later. It was initially unclear whether Connor was exposed to asbestos from his years as a smoker or years of occupational exposure as an assemblyman and electronics technician for an aircraft manufacturing facility. Connor initially filed his claim against 27 occupational defendants, companies that manufactured, installed or distributed asbestos products. After progressing to trial, only two defendants related to Connor’s occupational exposure remained and settled privately with the plaintiff.
Connor later amended his claim to include both Hollingsworth & Vose and Lorillard Tobacco Company, the manufacturer of Kent cigarettes. He argued that the companies’ asbestos-containing cigarette filters contributed to his mesothelioma diagnosis. The court ruled in favor of Connor against Hollingsworth & Vose and Lorillard Tobacco Company. The verdict was in the amount of $2.225 million, with $225,000 in medical expenses and $2 million in non-economic damages.
Hollingsworth & Vose does not have an established trust fund for asbestos-related cases, but it uses its own funds to settle claims. Payouts vary depending on the type and stage of the asbestos-related disease, as well as a lawyer’s experience handling similar cases.