Written By: Michelle Whitmer,
Last modified: April 19, 2021
Quick Facts
  • Founded:
    1941
  • Years Operated:
    1941 - Present
  • Headquarters:
    Wagoner, Oklahoma
  • Business:
    Industrial and insulation products
  • Asbestos Trust:
    Yes (closed in 2019)
  • Bankruptcy Status:
    Filed July 29, 1982, and reorganized June 2, 1989

Unarco’s History with Asbestos

The Union Asbestos and Rubber Company was founded in 1941 and made asbestos insulation products that it marketed for marine, railroad, aviation and industrial use.

Unarco’s insulation products were used on pipes, turbines, boilers and other industrial equipment. One of its insulation products, known as Unarco Insutape, was an insulating tape widely used on railcars.

It also made asbestos textiles, such as sound-absorbing blankets, asbestos gaskets and asbestos packing materials.

These products were made with amosite asbestos, which is known to be highly carcinogenic.

In the 1950s, 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 they had asbestos-related disease “in much greater proportion than that which could be expected in the general population.”

Many of these workers developed asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma, that cut their lives short. Unarco eventually faced so many lawsuits over its asbestos products that it had to declare bankruptcy.

Now based in Wagoner, Oklahoma, and known as Unarco Industries, the company manufacturers shopping carts for retail stores.

Development of Asbestos Trust Fund

In 1982, Unarco became the first asbestos product manufacturer to file for bankruptcy. It reorganized in 1990, establishing an asbestos trust fund to address unsettled and future personal injury claims.

The UNR Asbestos-Disease Claims Trust handled claims for nearly 30 years. The trust eventually ran low on funds and closed in 2019. The last day for filing a claim was Dec. 31, 2018.

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Asbestos Litigation Involving Unarco

Records show that as early as 1951, at least 17 Unarco employees had already filed compensation claims against the company, alleging asbestos-related illnesses.

The company declared bankruptcy in 1982 after facing tens of thousands of lawsuits by employees and others exposed to its harmful products. Its bankruptcy did little to spark major concern because Unarco was a relatively small company.

However, Unarco’s path set a trail for others to follow. Eleven other companies, including industry giant Johns Manville, also declared bankruptcy in 1982.

In April 2009, the family of Juanita Rodarmel, who died of mesothelioma, was awarded more than $2.5 million in damages. Rodarmel regularly laundered her husband’s clothing in the 1950s. At the time, her husband worked for Unarco Industries, handling asbestos and bringing the fibers home on his clothing.

Rodarmel’s surviving family filed a lawsuit against Pneumo Abex and Honeywell International 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 and conspired with Unarco.

Unarco’s Asbestos Products & Workers at Risk

Asbestos-containing products manufactured by Unarco included:

  • Amocel Pipe Insulation
  • Unibestos Block Insulation
  • Unibestos Pipe Covering
  • No. 50 Finishing Cement
  • No. 75 Insulating Cement
  • Wovenstone Lace-On
  • Woven Asbestos Cloth and Lagging Tape
  • Insutape Wrap-On
  • Insutube Slip-On
  • Insubestos Felt
  • Gaskets
  • Packings (including twisted asbestos rope)
  • Textiles (asbestos fiber, yarn, tape, tubing and cloth)

Unarco’s employees and factory workers faced the greatest risk of asbestos exposure through the company’s products. Those who worked in manufacturing plants and assembled asbestos products were exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos.

Workers who received and unpacked bags of raw amosite asbestos from Unarco’s supplier in South Africa may have encountered the highest levels of exposure.

In addition to Unarco employees, anyone who worked with the company’s asbestos products on the job was at high risk of exposure.

The occupations most at risk of handling Unarco’s asbestos products include:

  • Insulators
  • Industrial workers
  • Factory workers
  • Construction workers
  • Welders
  • Pipefitters
  • Boiler workers
  • Railroad workers
  • Mill workers
  • Refinery workers
  • Shipyard workers
  • Power plant workers
  • Aircraft mechanics

Unfortunately, respiratory illnesses associated with exposure to asbestos have limited treatment options and often have poor prognoses.

In 1962, Unarco sold its Unibestos product line to Pittsburg Corning, which manufactured these products until 1972. Pittsburg Corning employees were also at risk of asbestos exposure through the manufacturing of these products.

Unarco’s History

The Union Asbestos and Rubber Company was founded in Paterson, New Jersey in 1941.It 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 bolstered the company’s future growth.


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