EaglePicher Industries Inc. was once the world’s second largest producer of lead and zinc products. As its business expanded, the company began manufacturing asbestos-containing products such as insulation, which was used extensively by the military.
Years Operated: 1916 - Present
Headquarters: Dearborn, Michigan
Business: Manufactured batteries, insulation and cement
Asbestos Trust: Yes
Bankruptcy Status: Filed 1991 and reorganized in 1996; Filed again in 2005 and reorganized in 2009
Amount in Trust: $400 million
Year Created: 1996
Formed in 1916 after the merger of Eagle White Lead and a lead mining company owned by Oliver Picher, EaglePicher Industries Inc. 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. With that success, the company ventured into mining many different types of minerals and manufacturing a wide variety of products under numerous subsidiaries.
One of those minerals was asbestos, which was highly regarded for its durability and resistance to extreme heat and fire. It was an ideal material to use in the military to insulate ships and other vehicles.
EaglePicher Industries — formerly known as Eagle-Picher Corporation — 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.
By 1982, injured workers diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases began filing lawsuits against the company. In 1991, EaglePicher filed for bankruptcy protection while facing more than $2.5 billion in asbestos-related legal claims.
The company later reorganized in 1996 and established an asbestos trust fund to cover existing and future claims. EaglePicher filed for bankruptcy for a second time in 2005, having accumulated more than $500 million in new debt from asbestos as well as other environmental claims.
It would reorganize again in 2009 and was sold to OM Group Inc. (now known as Vectra) in 2010. Although the EaglePicher Corporation still operates today as EaglePicher Technologies, the majority of its subsidiaries have been sold off to other companies.
EaglePicher Technologies continues to be a global leader in integrated mission critical storage systems and remains a leading producer for mission-critical aerospace, defense and medical battery markets. The company acquired San Francisco-based lithium ion Energy Storage System (ESS) manufacturer Lithiumstart Inc. in February 2017.
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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 Thelma Press. She received $68,000 from EaglePicher.
After EaglePicher Industries reorganized from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1996, the company established a settlement trust to organize, liquidate and pay all valid asbestos personal injury claims in accordance with the claims resolution procedures.
Bankruptcy judge Burton Perlman found the company liable for $2.5 billion in claims arising from the sale of asbestos-containing products, higher than the $1.65 billion proposed by the company and some of its creditors.
The EaglePicher Industries, Inc. Personal Injury Settlement Trust (EPI) began accepting claims on Aug. 1, 1997. To cover the cost of the trust fund, EaglePicher provided $397 million in cash along with shares of stock, notes and ten-year debentures of the reorganized company.
Asbestos was a primary additive in EaglePicher’s insulation, but it wasn’t the only product the company produced with asbestos.
EaglePicher also manufactured asbestos-containing cement, which was marketed under the brand names Hylo, Super 66 and One Cote.
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 include:
Any person who worked in the vicinity of a job using EaglePicher insulation may have inhaled harmful asbestos fibers as well. According to the EaglePicher Industries Settlement Trust, more than 6,500 employers presumably used the company’s asbestos products.
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.
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