Asbestos Insulation

Expert Fact Checked

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Jennifer Lucarelli Lawyer and Legal Advisor

Asbestos was used in insulation products for nearly a century, putting many people at risk of exposure. Asbestos exposure can lead to diseases, like mesothelioma. Insulation products can still be found in thousands of buildings across the country. Notable brands include Zonolite, Kaylo and Unibestos.

01. Asbestos Use in Insulation

Why Was Asbestos Used in Insulation?

Asbestos was used in a variety of insulation products for nearly a century. From the mid-1860s through the late 1970s, the mineral was used in many types of insulation. Common areas for this insulation include buildings, machinery, pipes, boilers and more.

Asbestos insulation is one of the largest sources of asbestos exposure. Thousands of workers and residents have been exposed to the dangerous material. Asbestos exposure can lead to serious health problems, including mesothelioma.

Asbestos diseases can develop after an individual inhales or ingests the microscopic fibers. This often happens when friable (crumbly) asbestos products are disturbed. Once disturbed, the mineral fibers may become airborne and can easily enter the body.

Asbestos Insulation History at a Glance

  • Other Names: Block insulation, fill insulation, loose insulation, pipe insulation, spray-on insulation
  • Years of Manufacture: 1866 – 1990
  • Military Use: Aircraft, military barracks, ships, shipyards
  • Places Used: Attics, boilers, buildings, ceilings, factories, floors, manufacturing floors, residential buildings, sheet packing, ships, walls
  • Asbestos Use Banned: No
  • Noteworthy Brands: Kaylo, manufactured by Owens-Illinois, Inc.; Unibestos manufactured by Pittsburgh Corning; Zonolite manufactured by W.R. Grace

Asbestos Insulation Regulations

From the 1970s through the 1990s, U.S. federal agencies began to regulate asbestos. Notable regulations around asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) include:

  • In 1973, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned spray-applied ACMs used for fireproofing and insulating.
  • In 1975, the EPA banned the installation of asbestos pipe insulation and asbestos block insulation on facility components, such as boilers and hot water tanks.
  • In 1977, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) banned asbestos in artificial fireplace embers and wall patching compounds.
  • In 1978, the EPA banned spray-applied surfacing materials not covered under the 1973 ban.
  • In 1990, the EPA prohibited spray-on materials containing more than 1% asbestos.

The mineral may still be present in products manufactured before these dates. Today, certain types of insulation may still contain up to 1% asbestos, according to EPA guidelines.

Dangers of Asbestos in Insulation

Asbestos exposure can lead to the development of many related diseases. Exposure to asbestos insulation may cause any of the following illnesses:

A study of insulators in Ireland found increased mortality rates due to asbestos diseases. The researchers followed 162 insulators from 1940 through 1975. They found elevated mortality from mesothelioma, asbestosis and bronchial carcinoma.

Study Finds Insulators Experience High Levels of Asbestos Exposure

Another study evaluated asbestos exposure among 13 occupations. Studied occupations included insulators, pipefitters and sheet metal workers. Researchers found insulators had the highest levels of asbestos exposure.

Higher levels of exposure were observed from the 1940s through the 1950s. By the 1970s, exposure began to decline with the rise of industrial hygiene practices. Around this time, agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the EPA began to regulate asbestos use.

High asbestos exposure levels do not necessarily guarantee an asbestos disease. However, asbestos exposure is the primary cause of mesothelioma. Any level of exposure may lead to an asbestos disease, such as mesothelioma or asbestos lung cancer.

U.S. agencies have tried to curb asbestos exposure with regulations and standards for handling the mineral.

02. List of Asbestos Insulation

List of Asbestos Insulation Products

Many products produced before 1980 contained asbestos. Asbestos products were used across several industries, including construction, metalworking and shipbuilding. Asbestos insulation was used in many industries that included manufacturing or high temperatures in their processes.

Click on any of the asbestos insulation products below to see a list of brands and manufacturers.

Products Containing Asbestos

Types of Asbestos Insulation

Asbestos insulation can be divided into four main types. The mineral was used for its durability and resistance to heat and chemicals.

Block Insulation

This type of insulation came in semi-rigid slabs or blocks. These were often made of nearly pure asbestos, making them particularly risky. These were often used to insulate equipment, including boilers. This type of insulation could also be used in walls.

Insulation Wrapping

This type of insulation was molded to insulate pipes, ducts and other plumbing snugly. It often becomes crumbly as it ages, releasing asbestos dust if it is disturbed. This type of insulation can pose a particular threat to naval veterans, as it was used liberally aboard ships.

Loose-fill Insulation

This is a fluffy asbestos material often used in attics and walls of buildings. It was designed to fill hollow spaces in structures, being poured or blown into empty spaces. Its loose composition makes it extremely prone to becoming airborne with little disturbance.

Spray-on Insulation

Developed to be less labor-intensive when installed, this type of insulation was often used on ceilings and walls. It can be easily damaged, releasing asbestos fibers. Since 1990, the U.S. has heavily restricted spray insulation.

Other types of insulation products that may contain asbestos include cement, electrical panels, plaster and certain brands of batt insulation.

In addition to the mineral’s ability to withstand high temperatures, ACMs were cost-effective to produce. As a result, many companies included it in their products.

Asbestos Insulation Brand Spotlight

Zonolite Insulation

One of the most well-known asbestos insulation brands was Zonolite, which was produced with asbestos as early as the 1940s. The Zonolite Company was then acquired by W.R. Grace in 1963. The Zonolite product was vermiculite insulation, often used in residential attics.

Pure vermiculite is not dangerous. However, nearly 80% of the world’s vermiculite supply came from the asbestos-contaminated Libby, Montana mine. As a result, vermiculite insulation can cause health risks due to contamination with asbestos fibers.

Zonolite has not been manufactured in decades. However, it can still be found in homes and buildings constructed before 1980. As a result, homeowners, contractors and demolition crews are still at risk of exposure from Zonolite.

Mr. Fluffy/Asbestosfluf

In Australia, Mr. Fluffy was a well-known asbestos insulation brand. Mr. Fluffy was loose-fill insulation installed in many homes in Canberra, Australia.

From 1968 to 1979, Mr. Fluffy was installed in about 1,100 homes around Canberra. The loose-fill asbestos was blown into the attics and ceiling spaces. In the 1980s, the Australian Government notified residents of the dangers of Mr. Fluffy and conducted remediation.

However, in 2014 the government informed residents of possible residual asbestos from incomplete removal. After inspection, the government decided the safest course of action was to buy back and demolish the Mr. Fluffy-contaminated homes.

Insulation products often contained high concentrations of asbestos. For instance, some millboard products reportedly consisted of upwards of 85% asbestos. These products were used frequently in the construction of residential and commercial buildings.

Asbestos insulation has been found in businesses, factories, homes, hospitals and schools.

Asbestos insulation was also used to line other products, such as boilers, steam pipes and valves. These industrial uses of asbestos insulation were common in factories and plants across the United States.

A wide range of manufacturers included asbestos in their insulation materials. These manufacturers often sold products to other asbestos companies to distribute and install. Companies also acquired and sold brands, which can complicate tracking the responsible manufacturer.

Over the years, many companies produced and sold asbestos insulation.

Companies That Produced Asbestos Insulation

Asbestos companies were often aware of the risks of asbestos exposure but chose not to protect their employees. As a result, companies exposed thousands of workers and consumers to asbestos-containing materials.

03. Insulation & Asbestos Exposure

Who Is at Risk of Asbestos Exposure From Insulation?

Asbestos insulation exposed thousands of workers, consumers and bystanders to the harmful mineral. Some occupations were in almost constant contact with asbestos products at work. These workers are more likely to develop diseases, such as mesothelioma.

For a large part of the 20th century, asbestos insulation products were unavoidable in certain settings. For example, the U.S. Navy required asbestos use aboard its ships for decades.

Other occupations may have only occasionally encountered asbestos. However, any amount of asbestos exposure can be dangerous.

Occupations at Risk of Exposure From Asbestos Insulation

Occupational exposure is one of the most common ways to come into contact with asbestos. However, secondhand exposure can be just as dangerous. This can happen when asbestos fibers settle on the clothing of asbestos workers. The fibers may later be disturbed and inhaled by family members and loved ones. Secondary exposure can still cause mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases.

04. Asbestos Lawsuits

Asbestos Lawsuits, Settlements & Other Compensation

Asbestos exposure victims with an asbestos-related disease may be eligible for compensation. Victims can seek justice from the parties responsible for their exposure.

Compensation can come in many forms. Asbestos victims may be able to receive awards from a trust fund claim, lawsuit or settlement.

Notable asbestos insulation companies with trust funds include:

  • Celotex Corporation: Celotex Asbestos Settlement Trust
  • Combustion Engineering: Combustion Engineering 524(g) Asbestos Personal Injury Trust
  • Garlock Sealing Technologies: GST (Garlock Sealing Technologies) Settlement Facility
  • Johns-Manville Corporation: Manville Personal Injury Settlement Trust
  • W.R. Grace: WRG Asbestos PI Trust

Claimants can file directly with these trusts to receive compensation. An asbestos lawyer can help individuals gather the necessary information for their mesothelioma claims. More than $30 billion is set aside in various asbestos trusts.

However, many asbestos companies do not have trust funds. In this instance, individuals may wish to file an asbestos lawsuit. Lawsuits can result in asbestos settlements or verdicts.

Insulation Case Set Precedent for Future Asbestos Litigation

One of the first successful asbestos insulation cases involved an industrial insulation worker.

The worker, Clarence Borel, was exposed to asbestos throughout his 30-year career. From 1936 to 1969, he was in contact with asbestos insulation daily. He was not required to wear a respirator or any personal protective equipment (PPE).

In his deposition, the worker testified he often inhaled asbestos dust from insulation. However, he did not know how dangerous the dust was.

“Yes, I knew the dust was bad,” Borel said. “But we used to talk [about] it among the insulators, [about] how bad was this dust, could it give you TB, could it give you this, and everyone was saying no, that dust don’t hurt you, it dissolves as it hits your lungs.”

As a result of asbestos exposure, Borel developed asbestosis and mesothelioma. In 1969, he filed a case against 10 asbestos companies. Four defendants settled out of court. The other six continued to trial.

The remaining companies involved in Borel’s case were:

  • Armstrong Cork Corporation
  • Fibreboard Paper Products Corporation
  • Johns-Manville Corporation
  • Philip Carey Corporation
  • Pittsburgh Corning Corporation
  • Ruberoid Corporation, a Division of GAF Corporation

Borel passed away before the case concluded, so his wife stood in as the plaintiff. All defendants were found liable and his wife received the jury award.

The American Museum of Tort Law considers this case an important landmark in asbestos litigation.

Borel v. Fibreboard Paper Products Corp. was the first successful suit by an insulation worker against asbestos manufacturers. The success of the Borel case inspired a large number of lawsuits and facilitated controlling hazardous materials in the workplace through product liability actions. Subsequently, hundreds of thousands of asbestos victims, mostly workers, filed lawsuits in courts across the country.”

– American Museum of Tort Law

Compensation Following Exposure to Asbestos Insulation

Lawsuits are one avenue mesothelioma patients can seek compensation. Notable asbestos insulation-related lawsuit verdicts include:

  • In September 2020, a California jury awarded a plaintiff $2.6 million. The plaintiff was a retired Navy veteran. He developed mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos insulation during service. He was exposed to insulation manufactured by Metalclad Insulation Corporation.
  • In October 2018, a North Carolina jury awarded one of the largest verdict amounts for an asbestos insulation case. The jury awarded the family of an asbestos victim $32.7 million. The victim died of mesothelioma resulting from workplace exposure to asbestos insulation. He worked in a tire plant, where he was exposed to asbestos pipe insulation installed by Covil Corporation. Though Covil Corporation tried to appeal the verdict, it was affirmed by several federal appellate courts.
  • In September 2017, a Massachusetts jury awarded a former power plant worker $7.55 million. From 1968 to 1976, the plaintiff worked as an equipment operator at a New Hampshire plant. During his work, the plaintiff was exposed to Kaylo brand insulation produced by Owens-Corning Fiberglas. The insulation was installed by New England Insulation, the defendant in the case. The plaintiff’s workplace exposure led him to develop mesothelioma. The jury ordered New England Insulation to pay the man damages for his exposure and disease.

Experienced mesothelioma lawyers can help mesothelioma patients and other asbestos victims receive compensation. Lawyers will assist plaintiffs with choosing their best option for compensation.

05. Asbestos Insulation Removal

Safely Removing Asbestos Insulation

Asbestos insulation may still be present in older buildings, factories, equipment and more. Asbestos removal can pose risks and abatement professionals must follow strict guidelines.

Only asbestos abatement professionals should handle, remove and dispose of asbestos and asbestos products. Mishandling asbestos insulation may lead to fibers becoming airborne, increasing the risk of exposure. The EPA recommends the general public not attempt to handle or remove asbestos.

The EPA requires abatement specialists to complete training and certification. These professionals also understand and will follow federal and state laws. These regulations are in place to protect people from asbestos exposure.

Other organizations, such as the CPSC and OSHA also have regulations, rules and requirements in place for handling the mineral.

Should Homeowners Handle Asbestos?

Handling asbestos products can be very dangerous. Asbestos removal should not be attempted by non-professionals. Asbestos insulation can be particularly hazardous in older homes and building materials. Homeowners may not expect to find the product and potentially mishandle it. Asbestos insulation may also be mistaken for fiberglass insulation.

If an individual suspects there may be asbestos in their home, they should contact an asbestos abatement specialist. They will conduct asbestos testing and safely remove and dispose of any materials.