In this podcast, Paul Kelley from Satterley & Kelley Law Firm talks about the link between phenolic molding compound and asbestos. He explains that phenolic molding compounds were popular in many products in the past, and they contain asbestos. If you were involved in the production or use of these products, you have a heightened risk of mesothelioma.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Paul Kelley. Paul is a partner with the Kentucky personal injury law firm, Satterley & Kelley, which has over 30 years of collective experience in handling cases involving mesothelioma and asbestos exposure. Today, we’re talking about phenolic molding compounds, asbestos and mesothelioma. Welcome ,Paul.
Paul Kelley: Hi John, how are you doing today?
John: Good, thanks. Paul, what are phenolic molding compounds?
Paul: Phenolic molding compounds are a substance that historically has been used to make molded plastic products. There’s several products historically that have contained or been made from molding compounds. The things that people probably are most commonly aware of are things like circuit breakers, panel boxes, a variety of electrical products that were used in powerhouses and things of that nature.
John: And I’ve heard of an older, earlier type of plastic called a Bakelite, is that a product that’s made from a phenolic molding compound?
Paul: It is. Bakelite, it’s like the Kleenex. Kleenex is a brand name, but everybody says, for tissue, get me Kleenex. Bakelite is a product that was associated with the company called Union Carbide. It was officially the Bakelite company, but there are other companies that have made similar products, phenolic molding compounds, and then they molded similar plastic products like Bakelite was made from.
John: And that was in all kinds of things like even household appliances and things like that, right?
John: Why don’t you talk a little bit more about that? What types of products have historically used some phenolic molding compounds?
Paul: Oh, gosh. Anywhere from… cars sometimes had phenolic molding compounds and some of the plastic components. We have seen household appliances, refrigerators and ovens and the insides of ovens, stoves, a lot of products like that. And the military used a lot of phenolics for a lot of military grade equipment from their vehicles to weapons. It’s very high heat resistant. And so asbestos contains phenolic molding compounds, that’s why it was such a desirable product because asbestos has a very high heat resistance. And so anything that utilizes high heat phenolic molding compounds or the asbestos contained in them. Phenolic molding compounds protected things from overheating and protected people from being burnt in a variety of different ways. Unfortunately, it contained asbestos, which was one of the worst substances known in occupational history.
John: Phenolic molding compounds contain asbestos, so can you get mesothelioma from exposure to them?
Paul: Yeah. The good news, John, is I don’t think that phenolic molding compounds contain asbestos in 2022 and they probably haven’t for 25, 30 years, but historically from the 1960s, 70s, and even into the mid 80s, phenolic molding compounds contained asbestos. And there’s really a couple different ways that people could get mesothelioma from those products. One would be the people that use the raw molding compound, and another is the people who worked with the finished products. And we can talk about that a little bit this afternoon.
John: Tell me who was typically exposed to phenolic molding compounds.
Paul: Our greatest experience is people that worked in plastic manufacturing plants. There was a plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky called Cutler Hammer, later Eaton, and it was a plant that made electrical products, circuit breakers, panel boxes, switchgear, arc sheets, all kinds of different things, and those products in the 60s through the 80s were made with phenolic molding compounds. These compounds are basically a powder. They’ve been described in numerous different ways by the people that we’ve represented and their coworkers over the years.
Some have described it as like an oats type material. It’s shaped that way. And it’s very easy to create dust from the use of this product. Typically what happened in a plant like Cutler Hammer is they took the material from 55 gallon drums or 50 pound bags, and they poured it into hoppers, big 6, 7, 8, 10 feet hoppers. And they would just pour it in there. The dust would proliferate.
And so all the people who were responsible for making the finished product like the circuit breakers or panel boxes, they’re getting exposed to the raw material. And there are some other plants in Kentucky and nearby Kentucky that have used these materials. General Electric here in Louisville had a molding operation, Square D in Lexington, Kentucky also had a molding operation and used phenolic molding compounds, a company called Plastics Molding Corporation just on the other side of the river in Cincinnati also utilized phenolic molding compounds to make products.
They made products for companies like Cutler Hammer, the things that Cutler Hammer didn’t make at home they made at PMC. Ford Motor Company had the components in a car like transmission components that were made from asbestos containing phenolic materials over a period of time. The people that are exposed to the raw materials and then, to be frank, those people suffered an unbelievable exposure. If they contain asbestos and they’re pouring it day in and day out, they have to clean it up. Most of these places that we’ve seen, they didn’t have one molding machine, they had dozens of them. And so there’s dozens of people that are pouring these materials into the molding machines over the course of a 7, 8, 9 hour shift.
John: And even if you’re not the one pouring it, you’re just maybe in the room working the machines or something like that or doing other jobs and you’re just in a big warehouse type of building. And it’s probably just all getting up into the air, right?
Paul: Absolutely. It takes so many different expertises to make these products. You had the people, the setup man, you had the operators, people that were responsible for cleaning and people that were responsible for just bringing the materials into the molding area. And so there were a number of different types of crafts and people that were exposed. And everything that I’ve heard from every person that we’ve ever represented that worked in a plant like that, there was no way to avoid the dust, and the dust proliferated throughout the facilities in which they worked.
John: Could somebody get an asbestos exposure from exposure to a final product that’s created from a phenolic molding compound?
Paul: They can. Absolutely, they can. Lots of times there’s reasons to cut, drill, or saw these types of products. For example, I’ve heard of underground conduit that was made of phenolic molding compounds, and so this conduit would carry wires and cables that ran underground, so wires and cables for your telephone service or for your electricity, or I’ve even heard it sometimes in railroad settings where they needed it to run the signal boxes.
And so they have all this wiring cable that runs through a conduit, and when they have to put a new wiring cable in, they have to dig a trench, get to the conduit, saw the conduit, cut it, open it up, install their new cable, and then either replace the conduit or put it back together. That’s one example. And it might not be the same kind of exposure to what people got in the facilities where they molded the product, but there have been studies that have been shown that sawing, cutting, drilling, grinding that kind of material will produce a significant amount of dust that ultimately could cause someone to develop mesothelioma.
John: And are there any products today that still use phenolic molding compounds that contain asbestos?
Paul: There probably are not. If there is, it would be something that a foreign company imports in. Fortunately we’re not getting reports right now that anyone’s still being exposed to these kinds of products. However, it is important to note that other countries don’t have the same standards the United States does and so to the extent that foreign manufacturers are sending things through the United States it’s very important for people who are electricians, for people who work for railroads, work for telephone companies… In 2022, they have material safety data sheets for all the things that are typically used in the workplace.
And my recommendation to anyone would be to make sure that before you drill into some plastic piece, before you cut into some underground pipe, before you cut into a panel box or something of that nature that it would be worthwhile to take a look at the material safety data sheet to see if that product in fact does contain asbestos, because it’s very possible that it’s out there, but hopefully that’s not the case.
John: All right. Well, that’s great information, Paul. Thanks again for speaking with me today.
Paul: Thanks, John.
John: And for more information about mesothelioma and asbestos exposure, visit the Law Firm of Satterley & Kelley at satterleylaw.co or call 855-385-9532.