Combustion Engineering (CE) was leader in the development of fossil and nuclear steam supply power systems in the U.S. The company manufactured boilers, cement, insulation, adhesives and coatings with asbestos, which later led to thousands of asbestos-related lawsuits.
Combustion Engineering was founded in 1912 when Grieve Grate Company and American Stoker Company merged. In 1920, the company built its first headquarters building in lower Manhattan. The company’s initial products were boilers and under feed stokers (fuel systems for boilers) and dryers.
In the 1930s, the company worked on improving steam engines for locomotives. Combustion Engineering partnered with the Superheater Company, and the two companies eventually merged. After the merger, the company worked on assemblies for power plants.
During World War II, Combustion Engineering built several asbestos-lined boilers for Liberty ships. After the war, the company began delving into other products including plastics, synthetic fibers and solvents.
As the company grew, so did its product list. CE manufactured everything from cement to protective seals until 1990 when Asea Brown Boveri (ABB Group) — one of the world’s largest electrical engineering companies — assumed control of CE’s operations. By then, Combustion Engineering had already discontinued its use of asbestos.
Combustion Engineering’s financial debt and lingering asbestos liability was inherited by ABB Group and nearly bankrupted the company in the early 2000s.
At the end of 2001, ABB increased the amount to cover future asbestos-related claims against Combustion Engineering from $470 million to $940 million. At that time, the company intensified its efforts to settle valid claims and dispute any that appeared invalid.
CE had 111,000 legal claims pending in November, 2002. Many of the claims were the result of asbestos use as an insulation material inside welded boilers built before the 1980s.
In an effort to handle the debt and manage pending and future asbestos claims, ABB and Combustion Engineering agreed on a pre-packaged Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization plan with representatives of CE’s asbestos plaintiffs in 2003.
By October 2004, ABB had reduced the number asbestos claims to 94,000.
After three years in bankruptcy court, the reorganization plan took effect April 1, 2006. The plan established a trust fund to help settle any pending and future asbestos claims. Since 1990, ABB has paid more than $900 million to settle thousands of asbestos claims.
The Combustion Engineering Asbestos PI Trust was created to handle all asbestos personal injury claims. The amount of funding in the trust is estimated at $1.43 billion.
In addition to setting up a trust, ABB provided enhanced payment for claimants in the form of company stock and cash. The cash payments were made in installments from 2004 to 2009. These cash payments were estimated at $350 million.
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Combustion Engineering manufactured many asbestos products for use in a number of different industries, but the U.S. Navy was a major buyer of the company’s boilers and boiler products. Other industries that purchased products from asbestos manufacturers like CE included aerospace, construction, foundry, insulation, iron/steel, longshore, maritime, petrochemicals, railroad and textile industries.
Combustion Engineering manufactured boilers, cement, insulation, adhesives and coatings with asbestos.
The company produced more than two dozen specific asbestos-laden items, including:
Anyone who worked with these products should be alerted to their dangers because thousands of workers who were exposed to the asbestos in these products developed asbestos-related illnesses.
Shipyard workers, U.S. Navy veterans, engineers, plant workers and construction workers were likely at the highest risk for asbestos exposure from Combustion Engineering products.
Matt Mauney is an award-winning journalist with nearly a decade of professional writing experience. He joined Asbestos.com in 2016, and he spends much of his time reading, analyzing and reporting on mesothelioma research articles to ensure people in the mesothelioma community know the latest medical advancements. Prior to joining Asbestos.com, Matt was a reporter at the Orlando Sentinel. Matt also edits some of the pages on the website.
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