01. History of Asbestos Use
Western MacArthur History of Asbestos Use
- Years in Operation: 1967 – 2002
- Location: St. Paul, Minnesota
- Production: Construction materials
- Asbestos Trust: Yes
Western MacArthur Company was formed in 1967 from two construction companies: the MacArthur Company and the Western Asbestos Company. In the mid-1960s, the Western Asbestos Company began to experience financial troubles and approached the MacArthur Company to provide funding.
The two companies were unable to reach an agreement and the Western Asbestos Company dissolved. In 1967, the MacArthur Company took over the business of the former Western Asbestos Company and established a subsidiary. The new company was called Western MacArthur Company and remained in the same industry as its predecessors: distributing asbestos-containing construction materials.
- Distributed Johns-Manville asbestos products from 1930 to 1967
- Supplied mainly to shipyards and shipbuilders
- Distributed Johns-Manville asbestos products from the early 1900s to 1967
- Manufactured asbestos products in the 1950s and 1960s
After its founding, the Western MacArthur Company acquired $200,000 worth of Johns-Manville Corporation asbestos products from the dissolved Western Asbestos Company. Western MacArthur Company then began to distribute these asbestos products, including insulation, pipes and cloth, around the country.
Records show Western MacArthur Company distributed products to a wide range of sites, including high schools, hospitals, court buildings, chemical plants and recreational facilities. Western MacArthur and its predecessors also supplied asbestos products to shipbuilders and assisted in vessel repair.
As a result of the three companies distributing asbestos products, thousands of people were exposed to the mineral. Workers first began to file asbestos exposure claims against the companies in the 1970s.
These claims held Western Asbestos Company responsible for its own asbestos distribution, as well as the historic asbestos distribution of the Western Asbestos Company and the MacArthur Company.
Following regulatory changes, the Western MacArthur Company ceased selling asbestos products by the late 1970s.
Due to rising litigation costs, the Western MacArthur Company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2002. The company’s bankruptcy plan was approved in 2004, which established the Western Asbestos Settlement Fund to handle ongoing claims.
The Western MacArthur Company no longer operated after bankruptcy. However, its parent company, the MacArthur Company, sells asbestos-free construction materials today.
02. Asbestos Products
Western MacArthur Asbestos Products
Western MacArthur Company’s predecessors both distributed Johns-Manville asbestos products in various parts of the United States.
The companies supplied asbestos products to many industries, such as shipyards, construction facilities and industrial manufacturers. These products included asbestos cloth and insulation. Some of the company’s customers were other asbestos companies, such as Bechtel Corporation, Kaiser Aluminum and Owens Corning.
In the early 1900s, the MacArthur Company began distributing asbestos products around the midwest from its headquarters in St. Paul, Minnesota. In addition to distribution, the MacArthur Company manufactured and sold asbestos insulation from the 1950s to the 1960s.
The Western Asbestos Company also distributed similar products, starting as early as 1930. This company served the west coast, specifically working with shipyards in California.
Western MacArthur Company and its predecessors manufactured and distributed asbestos products including, but not limited to:
03. Occupational Exposure
Western MacArthur and Occupational Exposure
Western MacArthur Company’s asbestos usage exposed many people to the mineral. Western MacArthur Company purchased asbestos products from other asbestos companies, such as Johns-Manville. These products were used in construction, industrial settings and shipbuilding.
Workers directly responsible for handling the asbestos products are most likely to have experienced occupational asbestos exposure. People who serviced insulation in boilers, ships or buildings may have come into contact with Western MacArthur Company’s products.
Asbestos insulation was among the most dangerous of the company’s products because it was used across a wide range of industries. Western MacArthur Company was also responsible for the asbestos insulation historically manufactured by its parent company, the MacArthur Company.
Those who did not work directly with Western MacArthur Company’s asbestos products may also have been exposed. For instance, shipyard workers reported the airborne asbestos dust from insulation was so thick during maintenance, other nearby workers may have inhaled the mineral.
04. Asbestos Litigation
Asbestos Litigation Against Western MacArthur
As a result of Western MacArthur Company and its predecessors’ distribution of asbestos, many former employees were exposed and later diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases.
Numerous workers filed asbestos exposure claims against the company for knowingly exposing them to the mineral.
For instance, Jack Kaminski worked as a shipfitter’s helper during 1942. Kaminski worked at the Bethlehem Shipyard in San Francisco and the Moore Drydock Company in Alameda. He enlisted in the Army Air Force later that year.
In 1982, Kaminski was diagnosed with mesothelioma. He and his wife filed claims against multiple asbestos companies, including the Western MacArthur Company. Kaminski’s claim alleged his mesothelioma diagnosis was a result of his work in the shipbuilding industry.
At the Bethlehem Shipyard, Kaminski assisted with the installation of aluminum bars in destroyer ships. He was responsible for holding the bars while they were welded to the bulkhead.
Kaminski wrapped himself in asbestos blankets as a shield from sparks during the welding process. The cloth would tear, releasing fibers into the air and onto Kaminksi’s hair and clothes. In addition, he worked in enclosed spaces during asbestos insulation maintenance.
According to records, nearly all asbestos products at the Bethlehem Shipyard were supplied by Western Asbestos Company. These products, including cloth and insulation, were manufactured by Johns-Manville.
At trial, the Western MacArthur Company was found liable for the dealings of its predecessor, the Western Asbestos Company.
Ultimately, the jury awarded the Kaminski family compensation for personal injuries and loss of consortium.
05. Asbestos Trust Fund
Western MacArthur Asbestos Trust Fund
Increasing liability costs led the Western MacArthur Company to file for bankruptcy protection in 2002. The bankruptcy plan was approved in 2004, and an asbestos trust was established to handle current and future claims.
The Western Asbestos Settlement Trust handles claims related to the asbestos use of the MacArthur Company, Western Asbestos Company and Western MacArthur Company. The trust was initially funded with $2 billion.
The trust received its first claim in August 2004. As of June 2018, the trust had received 14,740 claims and compensated 10,071 of those claims. The payment percentage for successful claims is currently set at 51.1%. However, payment amounts may vary based on factors including, but not limited to, exposure history, disease severity, age and law firm’s settlement history.
Today, the trust is still active and continues to receive and payout for successful claims.