Congoleum Corporation was founded in 1886. The company gets its name from the simulated wood grain flooring product that it sold until the 1930s. Asphalt materials from the Belgian Congo in Africa were used to make the product and inspired the name “Congoleum.”
Congoleum Corporation has roots in Kirkcaldy, Scotland. Michael Nairn began by selling painted floor cloths made of sailcloth in Scotland. His son, Sir Michael Nairn, brought the company to the United States around 1880 and settled in New Jersey.
The Nairns manufactured linoleum flooring under the name Nairn Linoleum until it partnered with the supplier of Congoleum. Nairn Linoleum became Congoleum-Nairn and began manufacturing vinyl flooring in the 1950s. Vinyl is completely manmade and provided consumers with a less expensive yet stylish and durable flooring option. Congoleum was also the first company to offer “no-wax” resilient flooring.
In the 1960s the company changed its name to Congoleum Corporation and continued to expand. In 1993, it merged with Amtico Floors, a tile manufacturer. Congoleum purchased a 513,000-square-foot facility for manufacturing and distribution of residential and commercial sheet and tile in Trenton, New Jersey. The company delivered the products to 100 distributors in Canada and the United States.
Congoleum Corporation used asbestos in many of the flooring products they produced between 1947 and 1983. Asbestos can be found in their six-foot sheet flooring, asphalt tile and countertops distributed to both retailers and other manufacturers. Many of the company’s most popular products contained asbestos, including the “Gold Seal” flooring products that were offered in the 1950s.
Most recently, Congoleum partnered with 3M Corporation in 2004 to offer new resilient flooring with Scotchgard Protector. Congoleum products can be found in retail stores across the nation and all products are manufactured in Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey. Today Congoleum operates as a subsidiary of American Biltrite, Inc.
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In 1993, Congoleum attempted to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy because of claims related to asbestos exposure and the resulting illnesses and deaths, but its reorganization plan was not approved until 2010. Claimants admitted that they were aware of the asbestos in the products because they were labeled as such. However, employees, installers and customers were not warned of the risks associated with cutting or sanding asbestos-containing materials.
In one case, floor covering contractor Robert Ehret sued Congoleum and several other flooring manufacturers in the late 1990s. He developed pericardial mesothelioma as a result of the asbestos in the flooring he installed for 20 to 30 years. Ehret passed away during the trial, but the jury awarded his wife and heirs $3.3 million dollars for pain, suffering and loss of consortium and earnings.
Many other flooring manufacturers were named in lawsuits prior to 2003 and most settled quickly. Congoleum was forced to fight the allegations because its insurers refused to pay claims related to mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.
Although flooring products that contained asbestos were labeled, installers were not informed of the dangers of asbestos exposure. Cutting or sanding Congoleum flooring products during just one residential or commercial installation could cause an asbestos-related disease. Flooring installers is the chief occupation to be exposed to asbestos by Congoleum, but others include construction workers.
Congoleum’s own guide for making repairs to Congoleum floor coverings states that, unless you are positive that the flooring does not contains asbestos, you should assume that it does. Asbestos can be found in the felt backing and sometimes in the flooring material itself. Congoleum supplied an asbestos felt floor backing to partner Amtico and other flooring manufacturers.
In July, 2010, a District Court in New Jersey confirmed Congoleum’s bankruptcy reorganization plan.
A little more than 50 percent of the company’s stock was reorganized into a trust to pay medical bills and death benefits to asbestos claimants.
An additional $235 million of asbestos insurance settlement will also be included in the trust.
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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