Years Produced: Early 1900s to 1980s
Sheet packing was a common asbestos – containing product used to make gaskets for commercial and industrial settings. Asbestos fibers are mixed with a binding material and compressed to form the product, which can then be cut into various shapes and sizes to form gaskets and heat seals.
These products were used on pipes and boilers and in between joints on ships. When used in between pipe joints as a gasket, sheet packing prevents the contents of the pipe from leaking out.
Asbestos was commonly used as a component of this product because it provided resistance to high temperatures, as well as excellent durability and flexibility. Its cost effective nature also made asbestos an appealing material to produce gaskets and heat seals cheaply.
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In 1899 Richard Klinger, an Austrian engineer, developed a compressed asbestos fiber gasket material. In 1912 Flexitallic invented the spiral wound gasket. During the early 1900s, gaskets and sheet packing were used in boilers on steam engines and to insulate and seal parts on steam locomotives. The U.S. Navy used these products in a number of its ships in the 1920s through the '80s. Older ships still contain this material.
Gaskets cut from sheet packing were used in a variety of industrial settings. Sheet packing was used in engine parts and other mechanical applications to resist the effects of steam, high pressure, water, oil and other chemicals. Chrysotile asbestos was traditionally used in the product, but in acidic environments some crocidolite was also used to prevent erosion. Gasket material and heat seals made from asbestos sheet packing were used in mechanical systems that involved the transport of gases, hot oils, steam, chemicals, grease or acid. Uses for these products include:
Though the use of asbestos declined in the 1980s, asbestos-containing sheet packing, gaskets and heat seals may still be present in a number of industrial settings.
In the workforce, certain individuals were placed at a higher risk of asbestos exposure when they handled this product. If the material was damaged, cut, sawed or sanded, microscopic asbestos fibers could be released into the air.
Sheet packing was frequently cut into a variety of shapes to seal the space in between pipe joints. Airborne asbestos fibers were often released during the cutting process and are dangerous if inhaled or ingested. Three products that contain asbestos are sheet gaskets, spiral wound gaskets and metal jacketed gaskets. Sheet gaskets contain 70 percent chrysotile asbestos. Spiral wound gaskets have asbestos filler material along the spiral windings. Metal-jacketed gaskets have asbestos filler around the metal jacketing.
Workshop tools like punches, shears, saws and nibblers that are used to cut asbestos sheet packing into gaskets generate high levels of asbestos dust. When these gaskets were replaced, they were often scraped off, damaging the material and causing asbestos fibers to be released.
In 2008, retired Master Chief Gerald Gray filed a lawsuit against John Crane, Inc., a manufacturer of sheet packing and gaskets that were used in the U.S. Navy. Gray was exposed to asbestos during his 20 years of installing and removing asbestos sheet packing and gaskets aboard U.S. Navy ships. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma.
Unfortunately, Gray died three weeks before his trial. At the trial a doctor who saw over 1,500 cases of mesothelioma testified that the sheet packing and gaskets manufactured by John Crane, Inc. contributed to the death of Master Chief Gray. Another expert testified that the asbestos industry knew of the dangers since the 1930s.
The jury awarded the plaintiff $3, 825, 799.27. A total of $466, 434.52 was awarded for medical bills alone. Part of the award was also for pain and suffering, loss of consortium and mental anguish.
In another suit against John Crane, a jury awarded John K. Bristow $9.18 million after he spent 37 years exposed to asbestos materials, including sheet packing, at a Virginia Beach shipyard. The jury held John Crane solely responsible as the manufacturer of the asbestos sheet packing used in the shipyard. Five other companies settled for undisclosed amounts before appearing at trial.
United States Gypsum, which owned Gasket Holdings, Inc., paid a $35.2 million settlement to be divided among 22 Texas refinery workers. From 1940 to the 1970s, the refinery workers worked with metal gaskets containing asbestos. After using asbestos materials, the refinery workers developed pulmonary disease. United States Gypsum denied any prior knowledge of the dangerous materials.
Calvin R. Lane won a trial in California, receiving a settlement from Flexitallic Gaskets, Inc. Lane used Flexitallic's wire brushing gaskets containing asbestos. The trial ended in 2001 with an award of $4.2 million.
Garlock Sealing Technologies made the asbestos gaskets partially responsible for Jim Grumley developing mesothelioma. Grumley worked near boilers in a Garlock's papermill and encountered asbestos gaskets and heat seals, asbestos cement and asbestos rope packing. On May 16, 2012 the court reached a verdict in Grumley versus Garlock Sealing Technologies, offering Grumley $12 million in damages.
When removing old gaskets and packing from between pipe flanges, abatement workers usually use a handheld scraper or wire brush to scrape the old gasket off of pipe flanges. Asbestos is dampened before scraping the material to prevent fibers from becoming airborne.
The waste is then disposed of in an air-tight, labeled container or polythene sack carefully sealed with tape. Personal Protective Equipment is always worn when handling any asbestos- containing material.
Asbestos sheet packing was often made with rubber, neoprene, wax, metal or oil.
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