Combustion Engineering’s History with Asbestos
Founded in 1912, Combustion Engineering was a leader in the development of fossil and nuclear steam supply power systems in the U.S.
In 1920, the company built its first headquarters building in lower Manhattan. The company’s initial products were boilers and underfeed stokers (fuel systems for boilers) and dryers.
In the 1930s, the company worked on improving steam engines for locomotives. After a merger with Superheater Company, it 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 making other products including plastics, synthetic fibers and solvents.
As the company grew, so did its product list. It manufactured everything from cement to protective seals. In 1990, Asea Brown Boveri (ABB Group), a large electrical engineering company, took control of Combustion Engineering’s operations. Combustion Engineering was no longer using asbestos at that point.
The company’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 of funds set aside to handle future asbestos-related claims against Combustion Engineering, from $470 million to $940 million. It also ramped up its efforts to settle viable claims and dispute others.
Development of the Combustion Engineering Asbestos PI Trust
In an effort to handle the debt and manage pending and future asbestos claims, Combustion Engineering filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Feb. 17, 2003.
ABB and Combustion Engineering consented to a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization plan with representatives of Combustion Engineering’s asbestos plaintiffs in November 2003.
The reorganization plan took effect on March 1, 2006. The plan established the Combustion Engineering Asbestos PI Trust with $1.43 billion to help settle any pending and future asbestos claims.
The current payment percentage is 25%, which is significantly higher than the majority of other asbestos trusts.
ABB Group also provided enhanced payment for claimants using company stock and cash. The cash payments were made in installments from 2004 to 2009 and were estimated at $350 million.
Asbestos Litigation Involving Combustion Engineering
Between 1990 and 2001, Combustion Engineering settled 204,326 asbestos cases for $865 million.
In November 2002, before filing for bankruptcy, the company had 111,000 legal claims pending. Many of the claims were the result of asbestos use as an insulation material inside welded boilers built before the 1980s.
- Kenneth Wayne Jackson worked as a pipefitter at a Combustion Engineering plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, from 1952 to 1986. Jackson developed mesothelioma and died of the disease. His widow filed a wrongful death lawsuit against several asbestos manufacturers. Before trial, all defendants had settled with the plaintiff except for North Brothers. In 2009, a Tennessee jury awarded the Jackson estate $1.4 million.
- In May 2002, Combustion Engineering won an appeal of a verdict that held them 29% liable for a machinist’s death caused by mesothelioma. For many years, Jerold Anderson worked at the Wisconsin Electric Power Company, which used six asbestos-lined boilers made by Combustion Engineering. Anderson’s widow filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Combustion Engineering and several other asbestos manufacturers. She settled with all but Combustion Engineering, and a Wisconsin jury ruled it 29% liable. Upon appeal, Combustion Engineering argued the plaintiff failed to present sufficient expert testimony connecting Anderson’s exposure to his disease, and the court affirmed.
Combustion Engineering’s Asbestos Products
Combustion Engineering produced more than two dozen asbestos products, including:
- A-1199 Insulating Cement
- Asbestos Ropes
- Block Stick
- Buck Stay Cement A1360
- Calcrete 30 Insulating Cement
- Casing Cement
- Castablock Insulating Cement
- Expansion Joint Material
- Fibrous Adhesive
- Griptex Mineral Wool Block
- Hilite Insulating Cement
- Hy-Temp. Flexible Cement
- Kaiser Hard Top Insulating Cement
- Kaiser M. Block
- Kaiser Plastic Insulating Cement
- Lite Wate 22
- Lite Wate 50
- MHD Finishing Cement
- Permaseal Weathercoating
- Pyroscat Fireproofing Cement
- SDK 50 Cement
- Stic-Tite Insulating Cement
- Stirrup Cement
- Super 711 Insulating Cement
- Super Finish Insulating Cement
- Super Finish Stick-Tite Ins. Cement
- Super Stick-Tite Ins. Cement
- Utility Thermal Finish Cement
- WeatherKote Protective Air-Check
- WeatherKote Protective Coating
- WeatherKote Protective Duriseal
- WeatherKote Protective Thermal Coat
Some of the asbestos used to line boilers was amosite asbestos, which is highly carcinogenic.
These asbestos-containing products were used in a number of different industries, but the U.S. Navy was a major buyer of the company’s boilers and boiler products.
Combustion Engineering Occupations at Risk
The following occupations faced risk of exposure to Combustion Engineering’s asbestos products:
- Veterans of the U.S. armed forces
- Shipyard workers
- Boiler workers
- Power plant workers
- Chemical plant workers
- Factory workers
- Metal workers
- Lumberyard workers
- Construction workers
Thousands of workers who were exposed to the asbestos in these products developed asbestos-related illnesses. Based on a 2022 report by the European Commission, over 70,000 workers died from past exposure to asbestos in 2019.
Anyone who worked with these products should be alerted to their dangers.