Years Operated: 1941 - Present
Headquarters: Wagoner, Oklahoma
Business: Industrial and insulation products
Asbestos Trust: Yes
Bankruptcy Status: Filed July 29, 1982, and reorganized June 2, 1989
Amount in Trust: $114 million
Year Created: 1990
The Union Asbestos and Rubber Company, founded in Paterson, New Jersey in 1941, manufactured a full line of asbestos-containing insulation products. An economic boom during the mid-1900s spawned a growing housing market and a subsequent demand for housing materials, including insulation and related materials. This was a boon to the company and its future growth.
In 1954, the company moved to the Bloomington, Illinois. Eight years later, it purchased the Folding Carrier Corporation, the nation’s leading producers of shopping carts, made of both metal and plastic. The Union Asbestos and Rubber Company changed its name to Unarco and maintained market dominance in the shopping cart sector as part of the Marmon Retail Services group of companies.
Now based in Wagoner, Oklahoma, Unarco no longer manufactures products using asbestos. However, the consequences of the company’s past asbestos use still lingers, having caused health issues for employees and legal issues for Unarco.
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Records show that as early as 1951, at least 17 Unarco employees had already filed compensation claims against the company, alleging asbestos-related illnesses. A few years later, Dr. Irving J. Selikoff, an expert on asbestos-related diseases, conducted a survey of the 933 men who were employed at Unarco’s New Jersey factory between 1941 and 1945. He reported that those men suffered from asbestos-related disease “in much greater proportion than that which could be expected in the general population.”
The company declared bankruptcy in 1982 after facing tens of thousands of lawsuits by employees and others exposed to its harmful products. UNARCO was the first asbestos products manufacturer to declare bankruptcy, but that fact did little to spark major concern because UNARCO was a relatively small company.
However, UNARCO’s path set a trail for others to follow: 11 other companies, including industry giant Johns Manville, quickly followed suit and also declared bankruptcy in 1982. An asbestos trust fund was established to address unsettled and future asbestos claims against UNARCO. The fund still exists as former Union Asbestos employees and others exposed to the company’s products are still being diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.
In one recent case against the company, the family of a woman who died of mesothelioma was awarded more than $2 million in damages. The woman, Juanita Rodarmel, regularly laundered her husband’s clothing in the 1950s. At the time, husband Leslie Corry worked for Unarco Industries, handling asbestos and bringing the deadly fibers home on his clothing. Rodarmel came into contact with the fibers when she did laundry. This exposure eventually led to her developing mesothelioma. She subsequently died from the disease.
Rodarmel’s surviving family filed a lawsuit against Unarco in 2009, claiming it did not warn its employees of the dangers associated with asbestos and asbestos-containing products. The court agreed that the company worked to cover up related health and safety information. It awarded the family more than $2 million.
Unarco and other companies in the industry imposed significant risks to their employees during the 1900s, especially as it pertains to asbestos exposure. Welders, boilermakers, factory workers and pipefitters are just some of the occupations at increased health risks. Respiratory illnesses associated with exposure to asbestos have limited treatment options and often have poor prognoses.
Unarco manufactured insulation products for pipes, turbines, boilers and other industrial purposes. These products were made with highly-toxic amosite asbestos.
An old Unarco brochure boasts of the company’s asbestos use: “The natural fibrous rock is partially fiberized at the mines [in South Africa], then shipped to Unarco’s plants for final fiberizing and processing.”
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