Originally established in the United States as an American branch of the German chemical conglomerate I.G. Dyes, American I.G. changed its name to General Aniline and Film (GAF) Corporation in 1939. The name change resulted from its acquisition of General Aniline Works and a merger with Agfa-Ansco Corporation, which produced photography supplies such as film.
Because of German interests in the American company, the U.S. government seized it in 1942 after the U.S. entered World War II. GAF was managed by federal government-appointed directors until 1965. Unfortunately for the company, the directors showed little capitalist motivation, and GAF’s market position stagnated when compared to that of competitors such as DuPont, Xerox and Kodak.
After going public in 1965, GAF acquired roofing supplies manufacturer Ruberoid Corporation, which later became known as the subsidiary division GAF Materials Corporation. The company officially changed its name to GAF Corporation in 1968. Mismanagement plagued GAF Corporation through the ensuing decades. However, in the mid-1980s, the company cashed in on a housing boom that demanded the construction products in which GAF specialized. GAF Corporation later became known as G-I Holdings and spun off much of its roofing product line into its subsidiary, Building Materials Corporation.
In what was an ill-fated acquisition, GAF’s purchase of Ruberoid brought with it a product line that contained considerable quantities of asbestos. The asbestos-containing products ranged from roofing shingles and siding to insulation and numerous other construction-related products. Along with the purchase came ownership of an asbestos mine in Virginia. Once the sale was complete, GAF Corporation became the de facto leader in asbestos supplies in the state. The mine was shut down in 1975, less than a decade after GAF acquired it.
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As one of the major companies facing asbestos claims in the mid-1980s, GAF helped found the Asbestos Claims Facility. It was established to evaluate, settle and defend claims related to asbestos exposure. Although the claims facility eventually disintegrated because of conflicts among the member companies and insurers, GAF holdings maintained a commitment to the mission of the organization and stayed with it even after it changed its mission and name to the Center for Claims Resolution.
There were more than 70,000 cases filed against GAF by the year 2000, twice as many as had been filed by 1996. By 2001, GAF settled more than 500,000 claims that cost the company approximately $1.5 billion.
Because of its liability from asbestos claims, G-I Holdings, or GAF Corporation as it is now known, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2001. As part of its reorganization and a requirement for its emergence from bankruptcy, G-I Holdings funded an asbestos trust to address thousands of claims filed against it.
Fast Fact: GAF was the 27th company in the United States to file for protection under Chapter 11 bankruptcy from liabilities concerning asbestos-related bodily injury claims. Then-GAF President and Chief Operating Officer Bill Collins said that company was still “committed to growth and further industry leadership.”
A large number of workers in the company’s West Virginia mine were exposed to significant levels of asbestos and contracted a range of ailments related to asbestos exposure, including mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer. Apart from mine workers, employees in GAF’s and Ruberoid’s manufacturing facilities as well as workers involved in the installation or removal of the company’s asbestos-containing roofing and siding products also may have been exposed to asbestos.
Workers in any number of other industries could have been exposed to asbestos-containing products manufactured by GAF Corporation/Ruberoid, particularly those working for the company directly or in the roofing and siding industries. Construction workers were some of the most at risk of being exposed to these products.
GAF sold painting, insulating, piping, tiling, roofing and flooring products containing asbestos.
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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