Last modified: September 21, 2021
Owens-Illinois and Asbestos Manufacturing
Between 1948 and 1958, Owens-Illinois manufactured a line of asbestos pipe and boiler insulation products under the brand name Kaylo, which it sold to Owens Corning in 1958.
As early as 1948, the director of research for Owens-Illinois, A.J. Vorwald of Saranac Laboratories, conducted tests on guinea pigs using Kaylo dust.
After the guinea pigs were exposed to asbestos-containing dust for more than 30 months, he found “unmistakable evidence of asbestosis.” Owens-Illinois failed to act on this information and continued the use of asbestos in their products.
Former employees of Owens-Illinois and people who worked with Kaylo products have developed asbestos-related diseases, and many have since filed lawsuits against the company.
Owens-Illinois and Asbestos Litigation
The first asbestos-related lawsuit against Owens-Illinois was filed in 1981. By the end of 1997, the company had settled 210,000 asbestos claims and had 14,000 claims pending.
Owens-Illinois is still listed as a defendant in asbestos litigation today. In 2015, it reported a total asbestos liability of $817 million. In 2018, it paid down that liability by $105 million.
According a May 2019 report from the company, it paid $71 million in asbestos claims in the first quarter of 2019 alone.
In the 1970s, Charles Gillenwater was employed on a variety of construction sites as a pipefitter where he worked with asbestos products made by Owens-Illinois, Honeywell International Inc., Pneumo Abex and John Crane Inc.
Gillenwater developed mesothelioma and filed a lawsuit against the manufacturers claiming they used asbestos in their products despite having evidence of its health risks. On March 11, 2011, an Illinois jury awarded Gillenwater a total of $90 million in damages.
Owens-Illinois Asbestos Products & Occupations at Risk
Asbestos-containing products manufactured by Owens-Illinois include:
- Kaylo Block Insulation
- Kaylo Pipe Covering
Owens-Illinois factory workers who manufactured asbestos-containing products faced the highest risks of exposure.
Factory workers who didn’t manufacture asbestos products were also at risk of exposure for two reasons.
First, airborne asbestos fibers circulate throughout ambient air. That means that asbestos fibers could be found throughout the factory, not just in areas where asbestos products were made.
Second, many other asbestos products were used in the factory. Anyone who worked around boilers, furnaces, ovens, pipes, valves and gaskets may have encountered asbestos products.
Insulators, construction workers and pipefitters who worked with Kaylo insulation were at risk of asbestos exposure. Kaylo products contained about 15% asbestos. During the post-World War II housing boom, these insulation products were some of the most popular.
Other occupations at risk of exposure to Kaylo products include drywall installers, electricians and plumbers.
A 2015 report in the British Medical Journal analyzed rates of asbestos-related deaths in Belgium between 2001 and 2009. The data show that former asbestos-industry workers are 40 times more likely to die of mesothelioma than the general population.
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