Owens-Illinois, Inc. History of Asbestos Use
- Years in Operation: 1903 – present
- Location: Perrysburg, Ohio
- Production: Glass, insulation
- Asbestos Trust: No
Owens-Illinois, Inc. was formed in 1903 after Michael J. Owens revolutionized the glass-making process. Owens developed an automatic glass bottle machine. Using the machine, thousands of glass bottles could be made in a single day without the use of skilled laborers.
At the time, the company was called Owens Bottle Machine Company and solely focused on creating the machines. However, through acquisitions, the company soon ventured into glass bottle production, plastics and cardboard packaging. The early 1900s continued to be a time of growth for the company, and between 1909 and 1920, Owens Bottle Machine Company acquired more than 15 companies. During this time, the company changed its name to Owens Bottle Company to reflect the changes in product offerings.
The company’s largest acquisition came in 1929. Owens Bottle Company merged with Illinois Glass Company to form Owens-Illinois Glass Company. At the time, the merger between the two companies was the largest in the glass industry.
Owens-Illinois continued to innovate in order to maintain its success. The company changed its focus yet again and by 1942, began working on its Kaylo insulation. This was the company’s first experience within the insulation industry. As Owens-Illinois manufactured its insulation products between 1948 and 1958, the company incorporated asbestos fibers. The Owens-Illinois Kaylo insulation products that contained the mineral included block insulation and pipe covering, among others. The asbestos-containing products were then sold to Owens-Corning Fiberglas, which continued to produce the materials.
After ending its asbestos use, Owens-Illinois changed its name to Owens-Illinois, Inc. and began to heavily pursue international expansion. By 1960, the company had expanded to nine countries. This growth secured Owens-Illinois, Inc.’s place at the top of the glass industry, and the company became the largest producer of glass containers in the United States by 1956.
During the 1960s and early 1970s, Owens-Illinois, Inc. continued to experience growth and success. However, the company’s brief use of asbestos still led to thousands of people being exposed and the company faced its first asbestos-related lawsuit in 1977. Since then, the company has maintained steady growth, though it continues to be named in lawsuits stemming from its years producing asbestos insulation.
Today, Owens-Illinois, Inc. employs more than 25,000 people and has nearly 2,000 active patents.
Owens-Illinois, Inc. Asbestos Products
Owens-Illinois, Inc. produced its Kaylo asbestos insulating materials from 1948 through 1958. The company added the mineral to its products to increase heat-resistant properties, durability and strength.
Owens-Illinois, Inc. stopped production of the Kaylo products in 1958 when it sold the rights to Owens-Corning Fiberglas. That company continued to produce Kaylo asbestos products until 1973.
- Kaylo Block Insulation
- Kaylo Canvas
- Kaylo Pipe Covering
- Kaylo Pipe Insulation
Owens-Illinois, Inc. and Occupational Exposure
Anyone that worked around Owens-Illinois, Inc. Kaylo insulation is at risk of occupational asbestos exposure, including factory workers and installers. The risk of developing an asbestos-related disease increases with repeated exposure, which can occur at jobsites. All those employed by the company between 1948 and 1958 may have been exposed to the dangerous mineral in the workplace.
In addition to the Owens-Illinois, Inc. employees, other tradespeople who come in contact with asbestos-containing Kaylo products may also experience exposure. Today, exposure can occur when working in older homes, schools and buildings that may still contain Kaylo insulation.
Asbestos Litigation Against Owens-Illinois, Inc.
Owens-Illinois, Inc. was first named in asbestos-related lawsuits in 1977. By 1997, the company had settled asbestos lawsuits with 210,000 claimants. Additionally, Owens-Illinois, Inc. estimated it was a named defendant in ongoing asbestos claims involving 14,000 plaintiffs.
One such case was filed against Owens-Illinois, Inc. in 2011 and involved a worker who routinely used the company’s products. Charles Gillenwater worked as a pipefitter in the 1970s and was later diagnosed with mesothelioma. Gillenwater filed against Owens-Illinois, Inc., Honeywell International Inc., John Crane and Pneumo Abex LLC. The jury awarded Gillenwater approximately $90 million. Owens-Illinois, Inc. was found liable for:
- A portion of $9.6 million in compensatory damages (total against all defendants)
- $40 million in punitive damages
The compensatory damages were payment for his medical expenses and the injury caused by the company’s products. The punitive damages were awarded to Gillenwater to further punish Owen-Illinois, Inc. The large punitive damages are a result of the company being found guilty of suppressing the hazardous nature of asbestos. Since this case, the company has continued to be named in asbestos lawsuits.
According to the most recent data, Owens-Illinois, Inc. owed $125 million in asbestos-related liabilities in 2018. That same year, the company’s asbestos-related payments were $105 million. Owens-Illinois, Inc. estimates that in 2021, it will pay out between $60 to $80 million in cash payments and owe $250 million in asbestos-related liability.