Last modified: April 19, 2021
Union Carbide’s History with Asbestos
Union Carbide is a chemical company that began mining and milling asbestos in King City, California, in 1962. The mine is a source of a type of chrysotile asbestos that Union Carbide trademarked as “Calidria.”
According to internal company documents, its own scientists indicated that Calidria asbestos caused serious damage to the lungs of rats.
Other internal documents showed Union Carbide officials knew health effects from asbestos would not surface for up to 50 years. In one memo, Union Carbide officials decided to “make hay while the sun shines” and seize the opportunity for profit before the public learned about the health effects of asbestos.
Scientific studies of the mine have revealed it contained amphibole asbestos fibers, such as tremolite, in addition to Calidria chrysotile asbestos. It is considered the world’s largest deposit of asbestos.
Union Carbide sold the mine to King City Asbestos Company in 1985. It was the last asbestos mine and mill to operate in the U.S. when it shut down in 2003.
Asbestos Litigation Involving Union Carbide
Asbestos-related personal injury claims have been filed by workers exposed to asbestos in Union Carbide’s mine, mill and plants.
Union Carbide has also faced claims from manufacturers of products containing Calidria asbestos, their workers and their customers.
The majority of these claims have been settled or dismissed. Only a small percentage has gone to trial.
Unlike other companies that produce asbestos, Union Carbide has not filed for bankruptcy or set up a trust fund to handle claims. It is one of the last asbestos producers to remain solvent despite decades of litigation.
In its 2018 annual report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Union Carbide listed its asbestos-related liabilities as $1.369 billion through 2049. The report showed that 84% was related to future claims. That same report listed 15,427 unresolved claims.
Because asbestos-related disease does not develop for 20 to 50 years or more after exposure, the company will continue to receive lawsuit claims for injuries such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
- In June 2012, a jury in Los Angeles awarded $48 million to a California plaintiff and his wife. Union Carbide was liable for about $37.5 million of that verdict. The plaintiff worked with Calidria asbestos-containing products as a general contractor in the 1960s and 1970s. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2011. During the trial, one key piece of evidence was a 1967 Union Carbide internal memo that proved the company knew asbestos exposure caused cancer.
- A jury awarded more than $2 million to mesothelioma patient Victor Trinchese, who worked at Hunters Point Naval Shipyard from 1969 to 1980. As an electrician, he installed Bakelite resin switches approved by the U.S. military for use in high-voltage systems. These switches contained a high amount of asbestos. Union Carbide acquired Bakelite in 1939 and was held liable for illnesses caused by its asbestos products.
- Willis Edenfield worked in a factory that received 40,000 pounds of Union Carbide’s Calidria asbestos over a 12-year period during his employment. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma and died of the disease in 2011. In 2019, a New Jersey jury found Union Carbide liable and awarded $2.38 million to his estate.
Union Carbide’s Asbestos Products & Workers at Risk
Union Carbide’s mill produced different grades of Calidria asbestos powder. For example, one of the finest asbestos powders produced by Union Carbide was called Resin Grade 244. This powder was so fine that workers reported it floating in the air during production.
Union Carbide sold Calidria asbestos to companies, such as Georgia-Pacific Corp., U.S. Gypsum Co. and Kelly-Moore Paint Co., which used it in a variety of products.
These manufacturers and others used Calidria asbestos in the following products:
- Joint compound
- Drilling fluid
- Wall coatings
- Sheet packing
Union Carbide products were used in the following industries:
- Oil and gas
Union Carbide employed 450 workers at the King City asbestos mine and mill over several decades. The area around the mine is now a designated asbestos hazard area. Anyone who lived in the area may have been at risk of exposure to asbestos.
Workers who manufactured asbestos products with Calidria asbestos, and those who worked with the finished products throughout their careers, are at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases.
The following occupations were at risk of exposure to Calidria chrysotile asbestos:
- Mill workers
- Drywall workers
- Construction workers
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