Johns Manville Asbestos History
Johns Manville’s asbestos history started over 160 years ago, in 1858, when it began manufacturing fire-resistant roofing as the H.W. Johns Manufacturing Company. That asbestos legacy has since led to thousands of sick asbestos workers and environmental contamination.
An Environmental Law & Policy Center report issued in June 2022 discussed the potential danger of climate change-related flooding in Lake Michigan, where the Johns Manville Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site is located. A Superfund site is an EPA-designated hazardous waste location. The main contaminant at the Johns Manville site is asbestos, and potential flooding could spread industrial pollution and pose a risk to surrounding communities.
Over the years, Johns Manville has changed its name and been involved in mergers, but asbestos products such as asbestos roofing and insulation, asbestos automotive sheet cylinder packing and asbestos cement have been a major part of its portfolio. It even manufactured these products for the military. The government mandated that asbestos products be used to insulate Navy vessels in 1945, and Johns Manville produced many of these items.
Documents that surfaced in asbestos litigation showed the company buried data about the dangers of asbestos for years. It also failed to warn employees about the risk of developing asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestosis and asbestos lung cancer.
Company Policy: Keep Sick Asbestos Workers in the Dark
Some of Johns Manville’s coverups began in 1933, when Dr. Anthony Lanza — a full-time employee at Metropolitan Life from 1926 to 1948 — advised a Manville company physician against hanging warning posters informing workers of asbestos-related health risks.
Metropolitan Life also discouraged government inspections of a Manville plant even though it knew of confidential, company-sponsored reports of asbestosis in 20% of workers.
In 1949, Dr. Kenneth Smith sent a memo to Johns Manville headquarters regarding seven asbestos workers whose chest X-rays showed asbestosis. He advised company president Lewis H. Brown and other executives not to share the test results with the workers. Brown not only took the advice, he also made it company policy not to inform workers and hired Smith as the company’s medical director.
Johns Manville’s Bankruptcy and Acquisition
After decades of bankruptcy proceedings and changes in ownership, Johns Manville still manufactures construction materials, but now they are asbestos-free.
In the 1970s and ‘80s, thousands of people began developing serious illnesses as a result of exposure to the company’s asbestos products. Many instituted legal actions against Johns Manville, and the company filed for bankruptcy in 1982.
In 1988, the company emerged from bankruptcy and established the Manville Personal Injury Settlement Trust. The funds are available to cover compensation for people harmed by Manville’s asbestos products.
Berkshire Hathaway Inc. acquired Johns Manville in 2001, and the company produces insulation and construction products without asbestos. Its product line is now made with fiberglass and polyurethane. The company has also won awards for its formaldehyde-free insulation.
Johns Manville Asbestos Trust Fund
The Manville Personal Injury Settlement Trust was created in 1988 to settle all asbestos-related claims, and it started with an initial amount of $2.5 billion. As of March 31, 2022, the trust’s total assets were $682.6 million. Since its creation, hundreds of thousands of asbestos victims have been compensated.
People with asbestos-related diseases or their heirs can file a Johns Manville asbestos trust fund claim. The trust pays a certain amount depending on the disease and its severity. It doesn’t pay the full settlement value of the claim, however, because the amount in the trust isn’t enough to pay all claimants full values.
The trust pays as equal a share as possible to accommodate all claimants, and that is currently 5.1% of the value of each disease level. Claimants can dispute how their claim has been valued without a lawyer, but the process is complicated. An asbestos lawyer can help claimants get the compensation they are entitled to. Attorneys’ fees are capped at 25%, and claimants who are dying or in severe financial hardship may qualify for priority processing.
Johns Manville Jobs at Risk of Asbestos Exposure
Johns Manville jobs at risk of asbestos exposure include occupations such as firefighters, military veterans, miners, electricians and construction workers. The company also owned several mines and exported raw asbestos to other countries.
- Asbestos abatement workers
- Boiler workers
- Brick masons
- Construction workers
- Drywall installers and tapers
- Factory workers
- Furnace worker
- HVAC Installers and repairers
- Industrial plant workers
- Insulation installer
- Military veterans
- Shipyard workers
- Steel foundry workers
- Textile workers
- U.S. Navy veterans
Johns Manville was founded for the purpose of creating asbestos products primarily for insulation and construction materials. As a result, many of their own employees were at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases. The company’s own founder, Henry Ward Johns, died of “dust phthisis pneumonitis” — a disease believed to be asbestosis.
Johns Manville Asbestos-Containing Products
Popular Manville products that may have resulted in asbestos exposure to workers and customers range from wallboard, cement board and insulation to roofing, siding, paper and textiles, gaskets, packing materials and floor tiles. The company made a variety of asbestos products under many brand names.
Manville asbestos brands and products include:
- 352 Insulating Cement
- 7M-13 Raw Asbestos Fibers
- Asbestoguard Adhesives
- Asbestotle Flashing
- Colorbestos Siding Sheets
- Corrugated Asbestos Transite Sheets
- Fibrocel Insulation
- Flexstone Asbestos Roofs
- Glasal Flexboard
- Insulkote Weatherproofing
- J-M Asbestos Flexboard
- J-M Asbestos Movable Walls
- J-M Asbestos Wall Board
- J-M Aviation Products
- J-M Building Papers and Felts
- J-M Built Up Roofs
- J-M Encased Insulating Board
- J-M Insulating Cement
- J-M Marinite Fireproof Sheet
- J-M Transite
- Johns Manville Caulking Putty
- Johns Manville Colorbestos Shingles
- Johns Manville Rigid Asbestos Shingles
- Permastone Asbestos-Cement Flexboard
- Salem Asbestos Roof Shingles
- Stonehenge Architectural Panels
- Terraflex Plastic Asbestos Floor Tile
- Thermobestos Block Insulation
- Thermobestos Cement
- Transitop Asbestos Panels
- Vitribestos Sheet
- Vulcabestos Insulation
Because Johns Manville produced so many products, it can be difficult to identify which products you were exposed to. If you are concerned you may have developed an asbestos-related disease from exposure to a Johns Manville product, an asbestos lawyer may be able to help you identify the product.
Notable Lawsuits Against Johns Manville
Notable lawsuits against Johnson Manville include Clarence Borel v. Fibreboard Paper Products Company, Cavett v. Johns Manville Sales Corporation and the Consolidated Steel Shipyard lawsuits.
These lawsuits and their verdicts against Johns Manville helped established precedents for plaintiffs. After the company lost these cases and others, it led to the formation of the Manville Personal Injury Settlement Trust.
Industrial Worker Diagnosed with Asbestosis and Mesothelioma
In the early 1970s, Clarence Borel sued 11 asbestos insulation manufacturers, including Johns Manville. Borel’s lawsuit claimed it was a manufacturer’s duty to warn workers of the dangers associated with asbestos, and it also discussed the latency of diseases caused by asbestos.
Borel said the defendants’ negligence and failure to warn him led to his asbestosis and mesothelioma. The jury found all defendants liable for a total of $79,436.24, but prior to the trial, four defendants settled for $20,902.20. The jury determined the total damages against the remaining defendants were $58,534.04.
Boilermaker Develops Lung Cancer
James Cavett worked as a boilermaker for 40 years beginning in 1939. This put him into frequent contact with Manville pipe insulation. Cavett testified the asbestos dust exposure was so bad it looked like “someone dumped a barrel of flour on you.” He further testified that Johns Manville supplied 80% to 90% of the insulation he used.
Experts at the trial testified Cavett suffered from asbestosis and lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. After Cavett died from asbestos-related lung cancer, his wife Mary was substituted as the plaintiff, and she was awarded $800,000 for compensatory damages and $1.5 million for punitive damages.
Consolidated Steel Shipyard
Employees who worked at Consolidated Steel Shipyard during World War II filed asbestos lawsuits against Johns Manville, its main insulation supplier. Consolidated Steel Shipyard employed tens of thousands of workers from 1944 to 1945, during which time they were exposed to asbestos.
Workers were diagnosed with asbestosis, mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. Manville contended it was not liable for asbestos-related diseases workers developed because the company was unaware asbestos caused disease at the time of installation.
Johns Manville further claimed scientific knowledge and methods of research at the time were not sophisticated enough to understand the health harms of asbestos exposure. Internal company documentation has since disproven these claims.