International Paper Company History
International Paper held a vast one million acres of timberland in the U.S. and Canada, with streams running through the grounds that powered its mills with hydroelectric power. In fact, power-generating was an important part of International Paper’s early growth until 1928, when the U.S. government passed a law making it illegal for a business to run both an industrial firm and a public utility. With its power business gone, International Paper focused more on paper and packaging, expanding into the southern United States through the 1930s.
During World War II, the company designed V-board – short for “victory board” – a moisture-proof material used to make boxes for shipping supplies to troops. The company also developed nitrate pulp for use in explosives. The 1950s and 60s were very prosperous times for International Paper, and the company expanded considerably by acquiring other companies, but it suffered some losses in the 70s and was forced to close some mills.
Today International Paper continues to produce uncoated papers and industrial and consumer packaging. It also runs XPEDX, a North American distribution business, which offers printing, packing, graphic arts, maintenance and industrial products. The publicly traded company runs pulp and paper mills as well as converting and packing plants throughout North America, Europe, Latin America, Russia Asia and North Africa, and employs 60,000 people in more than 20 countries.
Asbestos Exposure Risk at International Paper Company
Like many companies, International Paper Company has come under scrutiny in the past several decades for its prior use of asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral that was widely used in products for nearly a century. Starting in the late 1800s, the growing manufacturing sector discovered the mineral’s long, crystalline fibers were a great insulator and could even stop the spread of fire. In a period of history when factories and machinery were becoming more prevalent and cities were growing at a very fast rate, asbestos often became the answer to stopping fires before they’d start.
As you might imagine, given the nature of their products, paper plants are highly flammable. Therefore, International Paper Company frequently used asbestos insulation in its walls and floors as a preventative measure. These insulation products – such as Corrugated Asbestos Cement Roofing Shingles and Siding – were not manufactured by International Paper, but the company bought the products for use in their facilities. Asbestos insulation was also used on pipes and boilers throughout International Paper plants.
Ironically, this material that was meant to protect people ended up doing severe damage to people’s health. In the 1970s, the federal government made officials what thousands of workers had already learned: Asbestos fibers can cause permanent and debilitating diseases like emphysema, asbestosis and mesothelioma cancer. Asbestos products are not generally harmful when they are intact; rather, the dangers arise when the products become cracked or chipped or begin to break down with age. When this happens, toxic asbestos particles are emitted into the atmosphere and are easily inhaled into a person’s lungs, where they can be fatal.
International Paper also has a connection to an asbestos-containing countertop product known as “micarta.” In the year 2000, International Paper acquired Champion International, the company that distributed asbestos-containing micarta for use in shipyards.
Products associated with International Paper Company that contained asbestos include, but are not limited to:
- Corrugated Asbestos Cement Roofing Shingles
- Asbestos Siding
Occupations at Risk for Asbestos Exposure
Because asbestos insulation was most harmful during the installation and demolition processes, the individuals most likely to suffer exposure were construction workers, insulation contractors, drywall installers, tapers, painters, and other people who helped build or demolish International Paper plants. Employees who worked at the plants could have been endangered too, however, especially repairmen, boilermakers and other who worked on maintaining the facility – though virtually anyone who worked inside the plant, from custodians to accountants, could have been exposed just by working in proximity to any cut or broken asbestos insulation.
Paper plants were especially dangerous places because not only were they full of asbestos insulation – they were also poorly ventilated. One former International Paper Company worker who worked in the company’s “caustic and wet rooms” for 36 years recalls that he was regularly exposed to chemical fumes and dust. In fact, in the 1980s, a study by the International Paper Workers Union found evidence of asbestos-related diseases in more than half of 273 former International Paper workers.
Furthermore, anyone who manufactured, shipped, or installed asbestos-containing micarta products may have had their health impaired.
In March 2011, International Paper Company announced plans to enter the paper and packaging market in India by purchasing a majority share of Andhra Pradesh Paper Mills, one of India’s leading paper-makers. Andhra Pradesh Paper Mills has 2,500 employees and makes 250,000 tons of paper each year. International Paper Company offered $423 million for a 75 percent stake in the company.
International Paper Company has been named as a co-defendant in numerous lawsuits by people who say they were diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer, asbestosis or another asbestos-related disease because of exposure to the company’s products.