Keasbey & Mattison’s History with Asbestos
The Nicolet Company, formerly known as Keasbey & Mattison, has an unusual background story for a business that made asbestos products. Known in construction circles for pipe insulation, the company began as a pharmaceutical firm.
Keasbey & Mattison was initially involved in the production of patent medicines. The company changed its focus when Mattison found that the popular laxative Milk of Magnesia could be combined with asbestos to create an effective material for pipe insulation.
By 1886, the company had shifted its focus to the manufacturing of construction and industrial supplies using asbestos. During the early 20th century, Keasbey & Mattison became one of the nation’s leading manufacturers of asbestos textiles and products, shortening its name to “K&M” in the process.
The company had changed ownership a few times by the early 1960s when it was acquired by Nicolet Industries. Nicolet continued to produce asbestos products and automobile parts until it filed for bankruptcy in 1987 after it was named a defendant in more than 61,000 personal injury cases involving asbestos.
It ultimately became a division of Armstrong World Industries. All asbestos claims are now being paid by the Armstrong World Industries Asbestos Personal Injury Settlement Trust.
Asbestos Litigation Involving Keasbey & Mattison
The disposition of Keasbey & Mattison was the subject of a landmark legal decision in 1987 when asbestos victim Keith Edwin Gibson successfully sued Armstrong World Industries for damages sustained through exposure to Keasbey & Mattison insulation products.
The U.S. District Court of Colorado decided that because Nicolet had purchased K&M’s assets and continued the manufacture of its asbestos product line, Nicolet was Keasbey & Mattison’s “successor-in-interest” and therefore answerable to the thousands of asbestos victims. Since Armstrong World Industries absorbed Nicolet, Armstrong became responsible for all suits filed against Nicolet and K&M.
This important court decision established a precedent that allowed mesothelioma victims to pursue compensation from a greater number of asbestos companies. The court decision also established under Colorado law that companies are responsible for both the assets and liabilities of the businesses they purchase.
Bankruptcy and Trust Fund
The Armstrong World Industries Asbestos Personal Injury Settlement Trust began accepting claims in 2007 to compensate victims of Nicolet and K&M asbestos products, and the trust received initial funding of $2.11 billion. By 2017, $312 million in claim payments had been made from the trust.
In 2019, the trust lowered its payment schedule to 26%, which is the percentage of a claim the trust will pay to make sure sufficient funds remain in the trust for future claims. In comparison to other asbestos trust funds, this payment percentage is higher than average.
Keasbey & Mattison’s Asbestos Products
Asbestos products made by K&M included:
- Air-Cell Pipe Covering
- Ambler Asbestos Fibers
- Amberlerex No. 2 Asbestos Cement
- Asbestos-containing Lumber
- Asbestos Electrical Tape
- Asbestos Electrical Tubing
- Asbestos Furnace Cement
- Asbestos Millboard
- Asbestos Paper
- Asbestos Pipe Joint Tape
- Asbestos Roll Board
- Asbestos Textiles
- Asbestos Wick Packing
- Automotive Gaskets
- Bestfelt Pipe Insulation
- Century Asbestos Corrugated Roofing
- Century Asbestos Corrugated Siding
- Century Asbestos Shingles
- Century Asbestos-Cement Shingles
- Compressed Asbestos Sheet Packings
- Duplex Wrap Insulation
- Ebonized Asbestos Sheets
- Featherweight Insulating Cement
- Fireproof Curtains
- Hy-Temp Pipe Insulation
- Kay-Therm Pipe Covering
- Kolor-Mate Asbestos Cement Composition Board
- Linabestos Siding
- Monobestos Cement
- Rope Packing
- Sheetflextos Cement
- Simplex Pipe Covering
- Sprayed Limpet Asbestos
- TexMo Brake Lining
- Twisted Asbestos Rope Packing
- Trafford Tile
- White Cold Molded Asbestos
- Zebra Insulation
Occupations at Risk of Exposure to Keasbey & Mattison’s Asbestos Products
The following occupations faced risk of exposure to asbestos through Keasbey & Mattison’s products:
- Automobile factory workers
- Automotive mechanics
- Boiler workers
- Brake mechanics
- Construction workers
- Interior decorators
- K&M employees
- Maintenance workers
K&M products were used in just about every aspect of the construction industry, from roofing to pipe fittings. Asbestos-containing K&M products may still be found in homes built prior to 1990, presenting a potential hazard to workers involved in the maintenance, repair, remodeling or demolition of older structures.
The company also manufactured automotive parts until 1987 that put automobile factory workers and auto mechanics at risk of exposure.
K&M produced a variety of asbestos textile products, including aprons, clothing, gloves, hats, helmets, thread, yarn and union suits. Workers who helped manufacture these materials faced direct contact with asbestos fibers.
Keasbey & Mattison’s Company History
In 1881, Henry G. Keasbey and business partner Dr. Richard V. Mattison moved their pharmaceutical company, Keasbey & Mattison, from Philadelphia to the small town of Ambler, Pennsylvania.
Ambler’s residents hoped the company would help rebuild the town’s economy. For a while, prosperity returned to Ambler as jobs at the Keasbey & Mattison factories and warehouses lured new residents to the area. The civic-minded Mattison even built an opera house and a new library.
In 1934, Keasbey & Mattison was sold to the British company Turner & Newall, which continued to operate the core business until 1962. That is when Turner & Newall was sold to two other firms, CertainTeed Corporation and Nicolet Industries.
Turner & Newall entered into an exclusive licensing agreement with Armstrong World Industries from 1962 to 1967 to distribute Sprayed Limpet Asbestos in the U.S.
Nicolet was eventually acquired by Armstrong World Industries, which filed for bankruptcy in 2000.
EPA Superfund Site
Decades of asbestos waste dumping by K&M, Turner & Newall and Nicolet resulted in several acres of land being designated a Superfund site in Ambler, Pennsylvania. The area, called the BoRit Superfund Asbestos Site, was added to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Priorities List in 2009. The site contains asbestos waste made up of shingles, millboard, piping and tiles.
One of the waste piles was actually used as a playground and public park for a number of years. It was closed in the mid-1980s because of asbestos contamination. Some of the piles of waste were as much as 30 feet tall, and at least 15 feet deep below ground level.
The EPA had initially begun cleanup proceedings in Ambler In 1985. The agency initiated a lawsuit against Nicolet (United States of America v. Nicolet, Inc. and Turner Newall, PLC) to recover costs and expenses already used in the cleanup in Ambler.
It issued the final cleanup plan for the BoRit site on July 28, 2017. In November 2017, the agency released its Final Operations and Maintenance Plan for the site. The cleanup includes covering the asbestos-containing wastes, soils and reservoir sediments with geotextile and a minimum of two feet of clean material. Air testing demonstrated there is no unacceptable risk from airborne asbestos in the surrounding community.
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