NARCO’s History with Asbestos
North American Refractories Company, also known as NARCO, formed in 1929 and became one of the nation’s largest manufacturers of asbestos refractory materials, which are heat-resistant products used to line high-temperature equipment such as furnaces.
NARCO developed heat-resistant products when asbestos use was prevalent because of the mineral’s durability and fireproof nature. Through various mergers and strategic acquisitions, the company’s product line expanded to cover more than just refractories, adding products such as furnace fittings, coating installations, ceramics and brake pads and linings.
The company’s ceramic refractories lined furnaces that were essential to the manufacturing of cement, lime, chemicals, nonferrous metals, glass, iron and steel. The addition of asbestos fibers to the ceramic refractories made these furnaces able to withstand temperatures of more than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit on a regular basis.
At NARCO’s plant in Mount Union, Pennsylvania, refractories were manufactured out of ganister rock, which is a local and naturally occurring sandstone with high silicon dioxide content.
The ganister was pulverized into a powder and mixed with asbestos and other bonding agents until the 1970s, when the Occupational Safety and Health Administration began regulating the use of asbestos in products.
Development of NARCO Asbestos Trust
NARCO filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2002. It emerged from bankruptcy and reorganized in 2008.
Reorganization established the NARCO Asbestos Trust on April 30, 2013, with initial funding in the amount of $6.32 billion. The trust reportedly paid out more than $100 million in its first year.
According to trust documents, the current payment percentage is set at 100%, which is abnormally high compared to other asbestos trusts.
Honeywell, which owned NARCO from 1979 to 1986, was assigned the company’s asbestos liabilities through NARCO’s bankruptcy. This means Honeywell is responsible for alleged injuries caused by its own asbestos-containing products as well as claims against now-bankrupt companies supplied by NARCO.
During the 1970s and 1980s, NARCO manufactured asbestos brake pads and linings sold to other companies. These products reportedly sickened thousands of workers and customers, many of whom have filed asbestos claims.
Because mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases carry a decades-long latency period, NARCO and Honeywell are likely to face additional asbestos claims for years to come.
Honeywell Seeks NARCO Trust Payout
In September 2021, Honeywell sued the NARCO trust, according to Insurance Journal. The lawsuit claimed mismanagement of trust funds and that trustees paid claimants that did not sufficiently prove exposure to NARCO products.
The trustees filed a lawsuit in return, claiming Honeywell has tried to escape its obligation to pay $150 million annually to the trust to cover claims from those who were harmed by NARCO products.
With the prospect of an almost endless stream of future cases, Honeywell agreed in November 2022 to make a lump sum payout of $1.325 billion to the trust in exchange for some finality.
The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania approved the agreement between Honeywell and the NARCO trust in December 2022. The agreement eliminated future funding obligations for Honeywell, which were estimated at $150 million annually.
Asbestos Litigation Involving NARCO
NARCO faced a significant number of personal injury claims throughout its history, like many other former asbestos manufacturers. By 2003, the company reportedly was named in more than 275,000 asbestos claims and reached agreements with 256,000 of them, or roughly 90%.
- In a June 2001 case involving five plaintiffs, the victims received a ruling of $130 million against NARCO and Dresser Industries for the companies’ roles in endangering the plaintiffs’ lives with asbestos use.
- In July 2001, a Texas jury ordered NARCO to pay $6.1 million in damages to Joseph Breaux, who developed mesothelioma after working as a pipefitter for the company. Breaux was exposed to asbestos working with NARCO’s Narcocast, a castable refractory mix.
NARCO’s Asbestos Products & Workers at Risk
NARCO products that contained asbestos include:
- Gun Mix
Several types of workers helped in the making of NARCO’s refractories and other products. Cement workers, chemical workers, steel and metal workers and engineers all assisted in the manufacturing process.
A large portion of NARCO’s products played roles in industrial processes and required resistance to extremely high temperatures.
Other occupations exposed to NARCO’s asbestos products include:
- Shipyard workers
- Boiler workers
- Railway workers
- Paper mill workers
- Textile mill workers
- Oil refinery workers
- Power plant workers
- Rubber factory workers
- Automobile factory workers
- Members of the armed forces