Most Americans have never heard of a company called James Hardie, but to many Australians this name conjures up an enormous death toll from asbestos. It has been alleged that this company is responsible for thousands of past and future Australian deaths from mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis.
Founded in Melbourne Australia in 1888 by James Hardie the company produced asbestos related products such as building products, insulation, and brake linings. In March 1987 it stopped manufacturing the asbestos containing products but, it was already too late. Mesothelioma and other asbestos related diseases have a long latency period from the time of asbestos exposure to disease diagnosis. Thousands of Australians who had worked for James Hardie or had come in contact with some of its products were already diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos related diseases.
The company went through different machinations to protect itself from liability including the creation of the Medical Research and Compensation Foundation (MRCF). At first James Hardie assured the Australian public and policy makers that the MRCF had sufficient funding to pay for present and future asbestos related claims. Later, it was revealed that there was a significant shortfall and that executives at the company had made unfounded predictions about the available funding.
In February 2007, members of James Hardie’s 2001 Board of Directors were charged by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission with a number of breaches. Recently a civil court in Australia ruled that the company had misled asbestos victims by not setting aside the appropriate amount of funds for people hurt or killed by James Hardie’s asbestos containing products. Some Hardie board members were banned from holding corporate office for five years and fined a few thousand dollars each.
Now, the latest news on the James Hardie saga is that bags that the company used to transport asbestos fibers were recycled and that some of them ended up as padding under the carpets of homes in Australia. In addition, many driveways and garage floors built in the 1970’s used James Hardie’s asbestos waste. Unfortunately, the asbestos legacy of James Hardie and its products and practices will be with Australia and Australians for years to come.