Turner & Newall, an asbestos product manufacturer and mine operator, was founded in Rochdale, England in 1871 by brothers John, Robert and Samuel Turner. Originally known as Turner Brothers, the company started off manufacturing cotton, cloth-based packaging, and as one of its claims to fame, was the first company in the United Kingdom to weave asbestos fibers into cloth. After that 1879 innovation, Turner Brothers changed its name to Turner Brothers Asbestos Company.
A 1920 merger with Washington Chemical Company, Newalls Insulation Company and J.W. Roberts led the company to change its name to Turner & Newall. The company grew rapidly throughout the 1930s and 1940s by acquiring Bell’s United Asbestos Companies and several other asbestos insulation companies throughout the U.K. Starting in 1939, Turner & Newall operated an asbestos mine in the country of Swaziland in Southern Africa; the company continued operating the mine until 2001.
After World War II, Turner & Newall became involved in other areas of asbestos product manufacturing: The company acquired the Zimbabwe-based Porters Cement Industries in 1953 and renamed it Turnall Fibre Cement Ltd. – “Turnall” being a combination of the two names “Turner” and “Newall.”
In 1998, the Michigan-based automotive supplier Federal-Mogul Corporation acquired Turner & Newall. But Federal-Mogul was overwhelmed by asbestos-related lawsuits against its new subsidiary and put Turner & Newall into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2001.
Products Manufactured by Turner & Newall that Contained Asbestos
When Turner & Newall got its start in the asbestos business, the health risks associated with the mineral were relatively unknown. While there had been an inkling that asbestos could be harmful as early as the 1st century A.D. – when Greeks and Romans noticed that slaved forced to weave asbestos cloth frequently came down with lung afflictions – it would be nearly two millennia before anything was done about it.
However, there is evidence that leaders at Turner & Newall were aware of the health risks for decades and allowed their workers to get sick anyway. In 1937, the company’s director reportedly wrote, “All asbestos fibre dust is a danger to the lungs. If we can provide evidence from this country that the industry is not responsible for any asbestosis claims, we may be able to avoid tiresome regulations and the introduction of dangerous occupational talk.”
Asbestos – a naturally occurring mineral mined from deposits like the one operated by Turner & Newall in Africa – was used in a wide range of products starting in the late 1800s. Its strength, resistance to heat and fire and its low price tag made it a popular choice for manufacturers. But we now know that asbestos is comprised of long, crystalline fibers that, when inhaled, can cause debilitating lung diseases like mesothelioma cancer and asbestosis.
One of the products made by Turner & Newall that contained asbestos was Limpet Spray, a spray used for structural fireproofing, acoustical ceiling treatments and for insulating turbines and other heat-generating equipment. The company also manufactured Tafford Tile asbestos cement sheets, a product used in the walls and roofing of industrial and agricultural buildings.
The following is a list of Turner & Newall products believed to have contained asbestos, along with the years they were manufactured, if known.
- Turner & Newall Limpet Spray
- Sindanyo Asbestos Electric Arc and Heat Resisting Board
- Trafford Tile Asbestos Cement Sheets
- Atlas Turner Newalls 85% Magnesia
- Atlas Turner Newalls Newtempheit
Occupations at Risk for Asbestos Exposure
People who worked at Turner & Newall’s factories up until the 1970s recall being completely surrounded by asbestos dust. According to one news report, measurements taken outside the factory’s roof in 1950 and 1957 showed levels of asbestos dust between 18 and 60 particles per cubic centimeter; safe working levels for the company were supposed to be two or three particles per cubic centimeter. Workers recalled regularly sweeping asbestos dust off the floor and even spitting the substance out of their mouths. In this type of environment, all workers were at risk.
Individuals who worked on sites where Turner & Newall products were used were also at high risk of exposure. Turner & Newall Limpet Spray was used “all over the World for acoustical treatment in public buildings, industrial plant, railway rolling stock, road vehicles, ships, etc.,” according to a 1960 product catalogue. Airports, underground tunnels and even the rotating restaurant at the top of the Space Needle in Seattle, Washington were sprayed with the substance, Turner & Newall newsletters said in the early 1960s. Workers who applied this spray, worked on demolition at these sites, or who simply worked in the vicinity of the product could have been exposed.
And of course, anyone who labored in one of Turner & Newall’s asbestos mines in Africa was put at an extremely high risk of being diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease.
Facing an overwhelming number of asbestos-related lawsuits, Turner & Newall filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2001. The company emerged from bankruptcy protection in 2007 with a trust created by its parent company, Federal-Mogul, to pay for future asbestos liabilities.
As of 2009, Turner & Newall’s heavily-contaminated Rochdale, England factory site remained in ruins, according to a news report, though new owners plan to build hundreds of homes there.