BASF is one of the largest chemical companies in the world. Business was going well for the company, and it seemed like it had money to burn. As part of its desire to grow and expand, the firm purchased an ownership interest in a company known as the Engelhard Corporation, as discussed in a recent article from Bloomberg.
In addition to gaining ownership interest in the firm, BASF unknowingly inherited what has been called a ticking time bomb in terms of liability for mesothelioma lawsuits due to asbestos exposure. Engelhard Corporation manufactured the asbestos for many years, so the risk and liability transferred with the sale of the company.
The reason the chemical giant didn’t see this coming is because the product produced by Engelhard was traditionally known as an asbestos product outside the industry. It was industrial grade talc. While some talc was used in barbershops prior to the advent of non-talc baby powder, the majority of talc was used in heavy industry and production. It was also used in building construction materials, such as wall boards, and it was used as quick way to handle hot materials on a production line. It was common for workers at tire plant to use talc as quick temporary insulation, so they could grab the hot tires without burning their hands.
However, as our Boston asbestos exposure injury attorneys can explain, talc is not the harmless white powder many people assumed it was. Talc by itself is not asbestos, but talc is mined from minerals, along with vermiculite, that is formed in the same conditions as where one would find asbestos, so much of the talc mined and crushed for industrial use and personal consumer use actually contains asbestos fibers. These fibers are microscopic, so the companies chose not to test for them. They did this because they knew, even if the workers were becoming sick and those who came in contact with the talc products would inhale asbestos, it would take between 20 and 50 years for them to become sick enough to go to a doctor and get a diagnosis, so they were willing to risk the safety and lives of millions of people for profits earned in the present. This was essentially how the entire asbestos industry was operating, and the general public had no idea they were being poisoned by the toxic fibers.
In 1983, there was a lawsuit filed against Engelhard, and during the pendency of the lawsuit, company officials were deposed, and they admitted talc produced at company mine contained asbestos and they were aware of it. This lawsuit was quietly settled, and the evidence was sealed. In the next two decades, there were other lawsuits against the company, but the company always claimed its talc did not contain any asbestos.
However this all changed when the daughter of a former Engelhard chemist sued the company, and her father was called to testify during the case. He testified that materials testing found trace amounts of asbestos in the talc, but the company officials told them to “purge” all of their records pertaining to this discovery. One if his coworkers also testified about the discovery of asbestos in the company’s talc in the 1970s.
Lawyers who represent mesothelioma victims and their families are calling this a Pandora’s Box in that in may affect the numerous victims who have attempted to sue the company over the years but were not successful because of company testimony we now know to be fabricated.
If you or a loved one is diagnosed with mesothelioma in Boston, call for a free and confidential appointment at (617) 777-7777.
Scientist’s Testimony for Dying Daughter Roils Chemical Giant, September 2, 2015, Bloomberg, by David Voreacos and Jef Feeley
More Blog Entries:
Mesothelioma Lawsuits for Shipyard Workers, July 30, 2014, Boston Mesothelioma Lawyers Blog