The Owens Corning Corporation initially got its start as Corning Glass, a company that was experimenting with glass fiber. In 1935, Corning Glass approached Owens-Illinois with a proposal to join forces and by 1938 the Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corporation was announced. The company worked under this name until 1996 when it was shortened to Owens Corning to reflect a growth in business. Owens Corning was the first to manufacture fiberglass insulation and this material quickly became the most popular form of home insulation. Owens Corning is now the world’s largest fiberglass manufacturer.
The demand for fiberglass insulation reached a new high during the post-World War II housing boom. No other company could match the effectiveness of Owens Corning fiberglass as home insulation and its 1957 promotional campaign known as the “Comfort Conditioned Home” became a favorite American catchphrase. Unfortunately, their insulation material contained asbestos.
The company went public in 1952 and from the 1960s through the 1980s Owens Corning continued to expand into new markets. In 1986, the company dealt with a hostile takeover bid by taking on $2.5 billion in debt, a move from which Owens Corning never recovered. An economic slowdown in 1989 undercut the company’s tremendous profits in the construction industry. Adding to the company’s financial woes was an onslaught of asbestos-related litigation. By 1990, Owens Corning was the defendant in roughly 84,500 asbestos-related lawsuits.
The company’s decline continued throughout the 1990s. In 1997, Owens Corning acquired Fibreboard Corporation, a manufacturer who also made great use of asbestos in its older products. In just a few years following the acquisition, Owens Corning created a personal injury trust to handle asbestos-related claims filed against both companies.
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Owens Corning filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2000 while facing a massive settlement of 243,000 asbestos-related claims. Part of the company’s reorganization plan involved the creation of the Owens Corning Fibreboard Asbestos Personal Injury Trust in 2006. The trust was funded with nearly $7 billion in liabilities. By 2008, the trust had paid out more than $361 million in asbestos-related lawsuits. In May 2011, Owens Corning sold 7,000,000 shares of stock and all proceeds were received by the Owens Corning Fibreboard Asbestos Personal Injury Trust.
The first asbestos-related claims against Owens Corning emerged in 1978 when two shipyard workers with asbestosis chose to file a class action lawsuit on behalf of 5,000 other workers. The lawsuit, filed against Owens Corning and 14 other manufacturers of asbestos-containing products, alleged the companies knew about the dangers of asbestos as early as 1938, but failed to properly warn workers about the hazards of asbestos exposure.
In 1997, a Florida jury awarded Deward Ballard $31 million in punitive damages and $1.8 million in compensatory damages after he developed mesothelioma cancer from working with Owens Corning products. It was determined that Owens Corning concealed information concerning asbestos hazards for more than 30 years.
Asbestos was used in Owens Corning’s Kaylo insulation products from the 1950s until 1972, when the mineral was finally removed from the product because of health concerns.
Even though Owens-Corning knew about the hazards of asbestos and the dangers of using it in their products, they chose to advertise the products as “non-toxic.”
Construction workers faced the greatest risks of being exposed to asbestos through Owens Corning products. Home insulation installers were especially likely to work with these products. In addition to home insulation, the company manufactured pipe insulation products that were commonly used on U.S. Navy ships. As a result, it was common for shipyard workers and Navy crew members to be exposed to Owens Corning’s asbestos products.
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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