Years Operated: 1916 - Present
Headquarters: Dearborn, Michigan
Business: Manufactured batteries, insulation and cement
Asbestos Trust: Yes
Filed January 1991 and reorganized in November 1996
Filed again in April 2005 and reorganized in July 2009
Amount in Trust: $730 million
Year Created: 1996
EaglePicher Industries Inc. was formed in 1916 after the merger of Eagle White Lead and a lead mining company owned by Oliver Picher. Eagle White Lead, a paint manufacturing company, was founded in 1842. The merger secured EaglePicher’s position as the world’s second largest producer of lead and zinc products.
The company initially manufactured storage batteries using minerals gathered while mining zinc and diatomaceous earth. The U.S. military made great use of these batteries throughout World War II, quickly becoming one of the company’s largest customers. As EaglePicher’s business expanded, it began to manufacture asbestos-containing products such as insulation, which was also used extensively by the military.
EaglePicher didn’t cease using asbestos in its products until the mid-1970s. Unfortunately, thousands of people who helped manufacture and install these products faced harmful exposure to asbestos. As a result, EaglePicher has been named a defendant in more than 160,000 asbestos-related legal claims. Although the EaglePicher Corporation still operates today as EaglePicher Technologies, LLC, the majority of its subsidiaries have been sold off to other companies.
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For decades, EaglePicher has battled asbestos claims involving people diagnosed with lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma. In 1990, U.S. District Judge Jack B. Weinstein ordered a suspension of asbestos cases involving an estimated 70,000 claimants against EaglePicher. The judge also ordered EaglePicher to pay $45 million to thousands of victims whose claims had already been settled.
One well-known case involved a U.S. Navy sheet metal worker named Charles Press. From 1941 to 1979, Press worked at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard where he was regularly exposed to asbestos-based insulation products. These products were manufactured by a number of companies, including EaglePicher. In 1979, Press and his wife filed a lawsuit against EaglePicher and 21 other manufacturers to recover the costs of his asbestos-related disease. He passed away four years later, but his widow pursued the suit and won. In 1984, EaglePicher and seven other defendants were ordered to pay $575,000 to Mrs. Press. She received $68,000 from EaglePicher.
The number of asbestos-related personal injury claims against EaglePicher gradually increased throughout the 1970s and 1980s. By 1991, the company filed for bankruptcy with more than $2.5 billion in asbestos claims filed against them. EaglePicher reorganized in 1996 and came out of bankruptcy with the establishment of a personal injury trust for asbestos-related claims. To cover the cost of the trust fund, EaglePicher provided $387 million in cash, 10 million shares of stock, ten-year debentures, notes for tax refunds and three-year notes.
A wide variety of workers may have come in contact with EaglePicher asbestos insulation throughout the course of their careers. Individuals exposed to asbestos in the company’s products typically worked in the construction industry. Occupations that experienced the highest exposure risks from EaglePicher products included insulators, roofers, bricklayers and drywall installers. Any person who worked in the vicinity of a job using EaglePicher insulation may have inhaled harmful asbestos fibers as well.
Because EaglePicher supplied asbestos products to the U.S. military, servicemen and women also faced exposure risks from its line of products. The use of asbestos-containing materials was mandatory on U.S. Navy ships during World War II, so Navy crewmembers and shipyard workers could have easily been exposed to asbestos insulation.
Asbestos was a primary additive in EaglePicher’s insulation, but this wasn’t the only product the company produced with asbestos ingredients.
EaglePicher also manufactured asbestos-containing cement, which was marketed under the brand names Hylo, Super 66 and One Cote.
In April 2005, EaglePicher filed for bankruptcy protection yet again after accumulating more than $500 million in new debt. It did not fully exit Chapter 11 reorganization until July 2009.
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