Written By: Daniel King,
Last modified: August 23, 2021
Quick Facts
  • Founded:
  • Years Operated:
    1866 - Present
  • Headquarters:
    Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Business:
    Manufactured railroad locomotives and industrial parts
  • Asbestos Trust:
  • Bankruptcy Status:
    Filed in 1991 and reorganized in 1998

H.K. Porter’s Asbestos Connection

H.K. Porter Inc. was founded in Pittsburgh in 1866 when Henry K. Porter and John Y. Smith opened a small machine shop that built and repaired industrial equipment.

By the late 19th and early 20th century, the company was a major player in the locomotive industry and became the largest producer of industrial locomotives in the U.S.

H.K. Porter soon dominated the “fireless” locomotive market, which used a large pressure vessel to hold steam and hot water in place of the traditional boiler.

Because of the extreme heat produced by locomotives, many of these machines included parts that contained asbestos, a well-known insulation material that was used extensively during the first three-quarters of the 20th century.

Unfortunately, asbestos is highly toxic, putting railroad workers, engineers, insulators and other occupations at risk for asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma and lung cancer.

A 2018 study published in the journal Occupational Health shows workers in the railway industry had the highest percentage of asbestos-related diseases among eight high-risk occupational groups. The average latency period for those workers — time from first asbestos exposure to diagnosis — was 30 years.

Legal claims began to pile up for H.K. Porter as former workers

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Litigation and H.K. Porter Asbestos Trust

By the early 1980s, H.K. Porter was facing lawsuits related to illnesses caused by asbestos exposure.

H.K. Porter faced more than 100,000 lawsuits at one point and paid more than $200 million in asbestos lawsuit settlements. Porter eventually declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1991.

The company was part of the growing trend and struggles of manufacturers who used asbestos to build their products,

In 1998, as part of its reorganization plan, the company established the H.K. Porter Asbestos Trust to settle all existing and future asbestos claims. According to its trust, the company has paid out over $300 million in settlements.

The current payment percentage for the H.K. Porter Asbestos Trust is 4%.

H.K. Porter Workers at Risk of Asbestos Exposure

Because the H.K. Porter integrated asbestos into a variety of products, many of the company’s employees were exposed to the toxic mineral.

Workers with the highest risk of asbestos exposure include:

  • Railroad workers
  • Engineers
  • Metal workers
  • Insulators
  • Factory workers

H.K. Porter Products That Contained Asbestos

H.K. Porter used asbestos to insulate and fireproof materials used in the manufacturing of its locomotive engines and boilers.

After the company built its last new locomotive in 1950, the threat from asbestos didn’t disappear.

H.K. Porter continued to manufacture and sell various asbestos-containing products:

  • Pipes
  • Steam valves
  • Brakes
  • Brake pads
  • Gaskets

Many were sold to shipyards and other shipbuilding-related industries throughout the country. Asbestos exposure from Porter products continued.

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