Written by Michelle Whitmer | Scientifically Reviewed By Sean Fitzgerald, PG | Edited By Walter Pacheco | Last Update: July 8, 2024

Quick Facts About Abex Corporation
  • wavy circle icon with check mark inside
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    Years Operated:
    1928 - present
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    Portsmouth, Virginia
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    Originated as a foundry and later produced asbestos brakes
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    Asbestos Trust:
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    Bankruptcy Status:
    Filed in 2001, reorganized in 2011

Abex Corporation’s History with Asbestos

View of two brake pads for large crane equipment.
Asbestos Brake Pads

Abex Corporation is a friction products company that formerly used asbestos in its brakes. Asbestos is a mineral that is naturally resistant to heat, and it was commonly added to friction products.

The company put asbestos into its brake shoes, brake pads and brake linings from 1926 through 1987. Some reports suggest Abex used asbestos in its hydraulic systems, fluid power parts, aircraft control systems and components for railroad cars. 

In 2001, Pneumo Abex filed for bankruptcy and reorganization because of mounting asbestos lawsuits. The reorganization plan required the company to establish an asbestos trust fund to process outstanding and future asbestos claims.

Pneumo Abex Asbestos Claims Settlement Trust

Abex’s successor companies set up the Pneumo Abex Asbestos Claims Settlement Trust in 2011 to handle asbestos-related claims.

The trust fund was established with an estimated $307 million to compensate people who develop asbestos-related diseases because of exposure to Abex products.

In 2018, the trust was part of a dispute between PepsiCo Inc. and Eaton Corp., which acquired Abex’s liability when it bought Cooper Industries in 2012 (Cooper bought Abex Friction Products in 1994).

Eaton was ordered to pay $293 million into the Pneumo Abex asbestos trust because of a lawsuit filed by Pepsi claiming the trust wasn’t funded with enough money to handle future claims.

Pepsi officials said the lack of funds put Pepsi in a position to be sued in the future because of a prior indemnity agreement between Pepsi and Pneumo Abex.

Asbestos Litigation Involving Abex Corporation

Abex has faced thousands of personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits because its asbestos products caused workers to develop asbestos-related illnesses.

Pneumo Abex continues to handle asbestos lawsuits that fall outside the coverage of the Pneumo Abex Asbestos Claims Settlement Trust.

  • In 2021, an appellate court in Illinois ruled in favor of Pneumo Abex and Owens-Illinois in a case involving a plaintiff with asbestos-related lung cancer. John Jones and his wife sued the two companies, plus others that settled out of court. They claimed Jones developed lung cancer from exposure to the companies’ asbestos products because of a conspiracy among asbestos manufacturers to hide the health risks. The court dismissed the case over lack of evidence tying the companies to a conspiracy.
  • In 2014, a Florida jury awarded nearly $37 million to the family of Gary Hampton, who claimed he developed peritoneal mesothelioma because of working with Pneumo Abex’s brake products as an auto mechanic for seven years in the 1970s.
  • In 2014, a jury awarded Charles Gillenwater a total of $9.6 million in compensatory damages after he sued several companies, including Pneumo Abex. Gillenwater claimed his mesothelioma was caused by working with asbestos-containing products as a pipefitter in the 1970s. He had never been warned of the associated health risks.
  • In 2010, retired mechanic Gordon Bankhead filed a personal injury lawsuit against Pneumo Abex after being diagnosed with mesothelioma. He had serviced and repaired heavy-duty vehicles using asbestos-containing brake pads from 1965 to 1999. He was awarded nearly $4 million in damages. He died a year later, and his family was awarded an additional $11 million in a wrongful death lawsuit in 2014.

Occupations Exposed to Abex’s Asbestos Products

People exposed to Abex’s brake products included factory workers who manufactured the products and workers who used them on the job.

Many of Abex’s employees were metal workers and factory workers. Occupations that used Abex’s asbestos products included construction workers, railroad workers, aerospace workers and automotive mechanics. They often inhaled asbestos dust when installing or servicing Abex brake products.

These workers have an elevated risk of developing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases because they were exposed to asbestos through Abex’s products. Abex employees were also at risk of exposure to asbestos insulation at the factory that may have been found in machinery, equipment and building materials.

Abex Corp. Superfund

In 1990, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared the old Abex plant in Portsmouth, Virginia, and surrounding areas a Superfund site after discovering soil contamination that included asbestos and lead. Several nearby neighborhoods and a playground contained contaminated soil resulting from work performed at the facility.

Throughout the late 1980s and the 1990s, the agency ordered Abex to clean up sections of the facility and surrounding areas. In March 2000, soil cleanup within 700 feet of the facility’s foundry was completed.

In 2001, a new phase of cleanup began to determine how far contamination from the Abex facility had spread. By April 2015, the EPA approved a Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study regarding the spreading of contamination.

The remedial investigation was finished in April 2019, but the feasibility study hasn’t been completed.

Abex Company History

In 1902, five manufacturers with patents for railroad brake shoes consolidated to form American Brake Shoe & Foundry Co., the predecessor of Abex. The company built an iron factory in Mahwah, New Jersey, that year and began casting brake shoes for railroad cars.

It then expanded into manufacturing brakes for automotive vehicles and planes. In 1966, the company changed its name to Abex to reflect a growing friction product line. Two years later it was acquired by Illinois Central Industries.

The company grew internationally in the 1970s to provide friction products in South America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. It merged with Pneumo Corporation 1978. 

In 1994, Cooper Industries acquired Abex Friction Products, the division of Abex Inc. that manufactured brakes for train cars, trucks and off-road vehicles. In 1998, Federal-Mogul Corporation acquired both Abex Friction Products and Abex Inc., which continued to manufacture aerospace and industrial products.

Tenneco acquired Federal-Mogul and the Abex business in 2018. Today, the company operates under the name Abex and continues to manufacture heavy-duty brakes.

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