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As recently as the mid-1980s, asbestos was incorporated into plastic molding compounds in order to provide durability and heat resistance. By integrating asbestos into plastic molding, it acted as a reinforcement filler for the molded compound. Asbestos reinforced plastics were incorporated into many common products, including circuit boards, arc chutes, vinyl asbestos floor tiles (VAT), handles for pots and pans, fan blades, automotive parts and roofing materials.
Phenolic plastic (phenol-aldehyde resin), which also contained asbestos fibers, is considered to be the foundation of the plastic molding industry. It contributed to a large percentage of all molded plastic products and was used almost exclusively for industrial plastic materials. Phenolic plastic was also first manufactured under the trade name Bakelite, named after the founder and inventor of phenolic plastic, Dr. Leo Hendrik Baekeland. Exposure to asbestos is known to cause mesothelioma, lung cancer and other asbestos-related diseases. Workers who manufactured asbestos reinforced plastics or phenolic plastic molding compound, and those who produced molded products from these materials were often exposed to dangerous asbestos fibers.
Truck drivers and railcar workers were exposed to asbestos when they delivered and unloaded asbestos-containing plastic molding compound. Individuals who worked in the shipping and receiving departments at mold shops were the first workers to handle the asbestos-containing plastic molding compound when it arrived at the plant. Not only did these workers assist the truck drivers and railcar workers with unloading the shipments, but these men also moved the bags and barrels to storage for future use.
Individuals who worked in the preform mold department of compression molding shops were exposed to asbestos when they dumped bags and barrels of asbestos-containing plastic molding compound into a hopper, where the material was pressurized and weighed. Plastic molding compound is granular, similar to the composition of sugar, and thus difficult to handle. Opening and dumping these bags and barrels of compound created a cloud of dust, which the workers inhaled. Once placed into the preform machine, the raw molding compound was compressed and punched into discs, similar to the shape of a hockey puck.
Molders were also exposed to asbestos dust and fibers while pressing preformed molded compounds into plastic parts. After the molding compound was pressed and had time to harden and cure, molders removed the newly formed pieces and placed them in a tray or barrel, which was then sent to the finishing department. Before the next batch of plastic compound entered a hydraulic press, the molder used an air hose to blow out any remaining dust and debris from the mold. This was done to protect the integrity of the next product. This process was repeated every time the press was emptied, and it created asbestos dust in the breathing zone of the molders.
Injection molding remains the most successful and widely used method for molding plastic materials. Injection molding is different from compression molding, because the entire molding process takes place in one machine.
Even though injection and compression molding processes are different, exposure to asbestos was nearly identical to the compression molding process; bags and barrels of plastic molding compound were opened and dumped into a large hopper, creating a cloud of asbestos dust, which molders, finishers, and other workers inhaled. Workers who inhaled asbestos dust and fibers are at risk for developing mesothelioma or lung cancer.
Asbestos-containing plastic molding compound was manufactured and shipped from numerous facilities throughout the United States, Canada and other countries by some of the companies listed below:
Durez Plastics - Division of Hooker Chemical/Occidental Chemical Company
Durez Plastics was headquartered in North Tonawanda, New York between Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Durez also had facilities in Niagara Falls, New York, Kenton, Ohio, Fort Erie, Canada and Japan.
Fiberite/Cytec Engineered Materials
Fiberite was headquartered in Winona, Minnesota. Some of Fiberite's plastic molding compound was used for high impact applications in the aerospace and defense industries.
General Electric (GENEL Phenolic Molding Compound)
General Electric's plastic molding compound division was headquartered in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, with additional manufacturing facilities and its mold shops scattered throughout the country.
Plastics Engineering Company manufactures plastic molding compound in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and is used to make a variety of products, including appliances, electrical parts, irons and it was even used to make Bausch & Lomb's Balscope Ten telescope in the 1960's.
Reichhold Chemicals originally started in Detroit, Michigan, but now has over 31 plants all over North America. Reichold manufactures synthetic resins and other chemicals. During the years Reichhold manufactured plastic molding compound, it was produced at its Carteret, New Jersey facility.
Rogers Corporation is headquartered in Rogers, Connecticut, but it also has manufacturing plants in Connecticut, Arizona and Illinois. Rogers Corporation manufactures plastic molding compound for use in a variety of products, including consumer goods, electrical materials, industrial parts and automotive components.
In the 1920s, Union Carbide purchased the original manufacturer of phenolic molding compound, the Bakelite Company. Bakelite was manufactured in Bound Brook, New Jersey, and was used to make a variety of products, such as appliances, radios, epoxy resins, vinyl flooring, jewelry and billiard balls.
These companies listed above shipped asbestos-containing plastic molding compound across the country primarily through the use of common carriers like tractor-trailers and railroad cars. Plastic molding compound was most commonly packaged in the following manners:
- 50lb kraft paper bags;
- large fiber drums holding several hundred pounds;
- rectangular boxes referred to as "gaylords"; and
- large cardboard boxes holding up to 500lbs
At Lipsitz & Ponterio, our attorneys bring third party lawsuits for mesothelioma and lung cancer against the companies that wrongfully failed to warn workers against the hazards of asbestos exposure. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease as a result of your exposure working with or around asbestos-containing plastic molding compound, please contact us for a free and confidential case evaluation.