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Johns-Manville’s Asbestos Legacy in New Jersey

The residents of Manville, New Jersey, named after the global asbestos manufacturing giant Johns-Manville Corporation, are still suffering the effects of the decades of asbestos manufacturing in this town. Despite the closure of the Johns-Manville plant in 1986, current and former residents of this factory town have increased rates of asbestos-related diseases, including asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma, a terminal cancer with no cure.

In 1912, The Johns-Manville Company opened its plant in Manville – a rural and agricultural town – and began manufacturing insulation, roofing materials, shingles, transite pipe, insulating boards, paper, rope and cloth using raw asbestos fiber imported from Johns-Manville’s own asbestos mines as well as mines in Canada, South Africa, and Russia. There were also a number of Johns-Manville dumps around town for the asbestos waste created by the plant. When Johns-Manville opened its doors, the farmers of the Raritan River Valley in great numbers went to work at the plant. The plant drew workers from across New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, to work in manufacturing asbestos products and materials.

The Johns-Manville production facility was approximately 186 acres and included eleven manufacturing buildings, one central administrative building, one power plant, five warehouses, and a number of smaller service buildings.

The “A-1” Building was approximately 110,000 square feet and housed the Molded Packing operation, manufacturing seals, rings and cups. Prior to the Molded Packing operation, “A-1” was the location for production of Johns-Manville asbestos-containing clutch facings and brake linings.

The “A” Building was approximately 174,000 square feet and was known as the Mechanical Packings and Rubber Department (prior to this official title, the “A” Building was known as the “textiles” building). Mechanical Packings consisted of braiding and twisting operations, manufacture of expansion joints, ropes, seals, and custom engineered components. Women were frequently employed in the “A” Building as weavers, spinning and weaving raw asbestos fiber into rope.

The “B” Building was known as the Rubber Department and involved the mixing and formulating of rubber compounds and cements, extrusion, calendaring, vulcanizing and sheeting processes. Raw asbestos fiber was used in the manufacture of these products. Also located in this building was the central maintenance department, including a machine shop, electrical, millwright, carpenter, tinsmith, pipefitting, and construction departments.

The “C” Building was approximately 180,000 square feet and used primarily for the manufacturing of pipe covering, molding, and insulating materials. High temperature aerospace insulating materials were also produced in the “C” Building. Raw asbestos fiber was used in significant quantity in this building.

The “D” Building was approximately 140,000 square feet and known as the Paper Mill prior to 1980. The Paper Mill contained the organic and asbestos paper mat production process, utilizing paper, wood and asbestos products as basic ingredients for the mats. The paper mats were then taken to a different building on the plant premises to be used as a base material for the production of roofing shingles and rolled roofing. From 1980 until the plant closed, “D” Building was used as a warehouse for finished roofing products.

The “E” Building was approximately 175,000 square feet and was known for the manufacturing of “Thermo” pipe and block insulation. The process involved mixing, molding, curing, and finishing operations utilizing raw asbestos fiber.

The “F” Building was approximately 125,000 square feet and was known as Roofing. Prior to 1980, production of roll and shingle roofing occurred in the “F” Building, where workers received organic and inorganic asbestos-containing mats from “D” Building which they would saturate with asphalt material. Granules were then applied to the felt to form roofing, which the workers then cut into shingles or rolled felt. In 1980, the base mat material which came from “D” Building was converted from asbestos paper to fiberglass. Johns-Manville did not manufacture the fiberglass mats.

The “G” Building was approximately 65,000 square feet and manufactured water-proofing roof coatings and industrial tile. The production of roof coatings involved the heating of cut-back asphalt and the addition of mineral wool and Kaycell fibers as well as raw asbestos fiber. Workers mixed the materials and poured the mixture into five gallon containers. The heavy grade industrial tile was manufactured by mixing various grades of asphalt and adding asbestos fiber material and extruding the mixture into fillets, which workers then punched into 12” x 24” industrial tile.

The “H” Building was approximately 257,000 square feet and was used for multiple purposes throughout the decades. In the early decades, the “H” Building contained shingle production operations and equipment to produce asbestos corrugated siding and flexboard asbestos sheathing. Prior to the mid-1970s, the “H” Building was used for the production of asbestos cement extruded products, a process which involved the mixing, extrusion, and curing of asbestos and cement to form panels used in exterior industrial construction. By the late 1970s, the “H” Building was used as a warehouse for finished roofing products.

The “I” Building, approximately 246,000 square feet, was known as the Transite Pipe building. Prior to 1980, “I” Building was the facility where asbestos-cement pipe – one of Johns-Manville’s most popular products – was manufactured. The “I” Building was a revolving door of workers, employing high school students over the summers to help with the endless production needs. The JM Transite Pipe ranged from 2” through 36” in its normal production sizes. Workers produced the Transite pipe using silica cement and asbestos fiber. The pipe was formed on four pipe machines, air cured and autoclaved. After final curing, the Transite pipe passed through machining and testing operations. Workers physically cut and moved the asbestos-containing pipe, exposing themselves and their surroundings to respirable asbestos fiber. Workers also manufactured pipe accessories in “I” Building, including pressure pipe, sewer pipe, conduit, underdrain and air duct.

The “EP” Building was approximately 19,000 square feet and was not actively utilized after 1966. Prior to 1966, “EP” was used for the production of refractory fiber.

Asbestos fiber was used in the formulation of products in each manufacturing and production building on the plant complex, exposing each of the Johns-Manville plant workers to asbestos fiber.

However, the dedicated plant workers were not the only individuals exposed to asbestos from the Johns-Manville plant and they are not the only individuals suffering from asbestos-related diseases as a result of the plant. Manville residents who never worked a day at the plant are being diagnosed with and suffering from asbestos-related diseases, including mesothelioma, as a result of non-occupational exposure to asbestos from the plant. Manville current and former residents often talk about the “snow” in the summer: “My father played a lot of baseball at Dukes Parkway park and still talks of when they used to stick their tongues out to catch the summer ‘snow’.” Gary Carmon.

“Well, sometimes in the mornings…stuff would be covered like your first snow…and you could go out and you could write on the cars or you could write on your toys and walk through the grass and it would leave your footprints going through the grass and it was just fun.” Deborah Ann Ketchem.

The “snow” Mr. Carmon and Mrs. Ketchem described was actually asbestos dust escaping from the Johns-Manville plant and dumps. And it is this type of exposure to asbestos that has been found to cause asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma. In fact, according to the New Jersey Department of Health Environmental Health Services, the mesothelioma rates in Somerset County (where the Manville plant was located) are approximately five times higher – 105 per million males and 21 per million females – than the average New Jersey rate and about seven times the national rate. These numbers include not only individuals who worked at the Manville plant, but also household members of workers and residents of the town.

The asbestos litigation firm Levy Konigsberg LLP has been helping victims suffering from asbestos-related diseases caused by Johns-Manville asbestos pollution for over two decades. Although the Manville factory was shuttered 27 years ago, the effects of the asbestos pollution are still being felt today. LK asbestos attorneys, led by New Jersey asbestos lawyer Moshe Maimon, are dedicated to making sure that victims of Manville asbestos exposure, regardless of their occupation and status, receive justice for their suffering and loss.

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