Since its founding in 1910, Spirax Sarco, Inc. has arguably set the industry standard for effective steam solutions. Their products and services have been utilized by a wide array of industries, from automotive, petrochemical and pharmaceutical clients to those working in the dairy, horticulture and textiles trades. In addition to providing consulting services to these clients and training engineers, the heart of Sprirax Sarco’s business is the manufacture of the hardware that allows steam systems to operate. These include but are not limited to: steam traps, industrial strainers and vents, boiler controls, flowmeters, control valves, pumps, regulators and humidifiers – some of which have been found to include asbestos containing elements.
Products Manufactured by Spirax Sarco that Contained Asbestos
Today, the many dangers that exposure to airborne asbestos can visit upon individuals and families is widely known: mesothelioma cancer and asbestosis are diseases that have been directly linked to the inhalation and ingestion of asbestos fibers. But before the mid-1970s, public information about the dangers of asbestos was relatively scarce. Many manufacturers, particularly those who needed to protect their products against deterioration from exposure to heat and chemicals, turned to asbestos as a solution. Why? Because this naturally-occurring mineral – whose name comes from the Greek for “inextinguishable” – had an uncanny ability to resist fire, heat and chemicals, providing a relatively inexpensive form of heat protection for industrial products of all kinds.
Though Spirax Sarco, Inc. has stated that it did not directly add asbestos to any of its steam system products in the manufacturing process, the company does acknowledge incorporating asbestos-containing gaskets into some of the products it sold. (Garlock Sealing Technologies, one of the makers of those gaskets, was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in June of 2010 due to the hundreds of thousands of claims of asbestos exposure leveled at the company since the mid-1970s; the Flexitallic Gasket Company, another gasket manufacturer used by Spirax Sarco, had to seek bankruptcy protection in 2001 for similar reasons. Both companies have established trust funds to pay all valid asbestos-related claims.)
Of particular concern for the health risk posed by working in proximity to them are steam traps and strainers manufactured by Spirax Sarco and utilized by a range of clients throughout the 20th Century. These traps and strainers are likely to have had asbestos-containing gaskets in them, and may also have been insulated with asbestos once installed. Though these gaskets tend to last a long time, when they do eventually deteriorate they can release miniscule pieces of asbestos into the air, which can then be ingested and/or inhaled by people working with these products or nearby. Among the products sold by Spirax Sarco that may have contained asbestos are:
- Thermodynamic Steam Traps
- Thermostatic Steam Traps
- Float Thermostatic Steam Traps
- Inverted Bucket Steam Traps
- Temperature Pressure Regulators
- Self-poured Regulator Pilots
- Pipeline Strainers
- Scraper Strainers
- Flanged Strainers
- Threaded/Screwed Strainers [referenced as BT, CT & DT Strainers]
- Air Eliminators
- Compressed Air Drain Traps
- Drainage and Air Vent Systems (containing float thermostatic steam traps)
- Pressure Reducing Valves
- Temperature Controls/Regulators
- Pressure Powered Pumps
Replacement kits for any of these products manufactured prior to the 1990s could also contain gaskets made with asbestos.
Occupations at Risk for Asbestos Exposure
The likely candidates for exposure to asbestos in Spirax Sarco products are those who worked closely with steam operation units produced by the company. Individuals who worked in power plants, on Navy vessels, with steam engines, or in any type of manufacturing industry containing a sizable steam generation plant may have come into contact with the company’s steam traps and strainers, and could be at risk for developing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. Boilermen, steam and pipefitters, Navy personnel/shipbuilders and insulators may be at particular risk; those who worked in airplane/aircraft construction and maintenance, and in the railroad industry, may also have experienced asbestos exposure from these products.
Companies including DuPont Industries, New York Central Railroad, Pennsylvania Railroad, Erie Railroad, D. L. &W. Railroad, Consolidated Gas Company, Standard Oil, Atlas Powder Company, and William Cramp & Sons Shipyards – among others – are known to have utilized Sarco steam traps from at least the 1920s on. Individuals who worked for these companies in any of the high-risk occupations listed above (or who may have otherwise come into contact with Spirax Sarco products in their work) may have been exposed to airborne asbestos and its dangers. The families of these workers may also be at risk: workers’ clothing can transport asbestos dust into the home, and can pose a significant threat to anyone who handles these contaminated garments.
Unfortunately, symptoms of mesothelioma may not show up for many years, and as a result survival rates are devastatingly low. Take the time now to learn more about how this disease spreads – and how to fight it — by visiting our mesothelioma treatment page.
As of October 2010, Spirax Sarco has been named as a co-defendant in numerous cases of alleged asbestos exposure across the country. Plaintiffs in these cases maintain that the defendants knew, or should have known, that the asbestos containing products they were exposing their employees to would result in illness or death. Spirax Sarco remains in operation today, and continues to lead the field in innovative steam solutions. At present, the company does not use gaskets, or manufacture products, that are known to contain asbestos.