EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. (Legal Newsline) - Nearing the end of a rare Madison County, Ill. asbestos trial, the jury was given the chance to hear directly from a Crane Co. representative who stands firm in his belief that Crane Co. gaskets and packing were not hazardous.
According to the lawsuit, plaintiff Tom King was a machinist mate for the U.S. Navy from 1959-1962 and again from 1965-1969. He later died from mesothelioma on May 23 at age 71.
As a machinist mate, King's job was to change gaskets, repair pumps and repair valves. Part of his job required him to scrape out dry, baked chrysotile asbestos form gaskets in order to replace them with new ones. He was also exposed to asbestos packing, which was used in valves and pumps as a sealant to prevent leaks.
Crane Co.'s Vice President of Environment Health and Safety Anthony Pantaleoni's testimony was first heard on Friday when the plaintiffs showed his video deposition.
Pantaleoni joined Crane Co. in 1989 and became a designated representative in 2003.
In his video deposition, Pantaleoni agrees that Crane Co.'s primary product line is dedicated to valves and valve component parts, which sometimes included asbestos. He said the company first started selling the products in the early 1900s and didn't stop selling asbestos-containing valves until the mid-1980s.
Pantaleoni later stated in his deposition that Crane Co. continued producing one product line of asbestos-containing valves into the 1990s.
Crane Co. became aware of asbestos health hazards and illnesses in the early 70s, he said.
However, in his defense testimony heard by the court on Wednesday, Pantaleoni said Crane Co. still to this day does not believe the gaskets and packing it sold was hazardous.
Questioned by Crane Co. attorney Jim Lowery, Pantaleoni said all asbestos-containing gaskets and packing were provided to them by third-party companies to be sold by Crane Co.
"We never manufactured asbestos, never mined it, never milled it in any of our operations," Pantaleoni said.
He admitted that while Crane Co. didn't make the asbestos-containing gaskets and packing, it did put them into its products.
Pantaleoni said the valves they made were simple to use, but were intricate to construct. It is important that they are made in a clean environment to prevent malfunctions and leaking.
"While the valve itself is a simple mechanism, the way you make it is a critical aspect," he said.
It was also important that the metals used are correct, the formulations are correct and the way those metals are used are correct.
He went on to explain that valves do not require asbestos in order to function, saying using asbestos or not makes no determination of whether it functions correctly. He added that the material running through the valve would determine whether or not asbestos is needed.
"That valve doesn't care," he said.
He proceeded to demonstrate the components of a valve and how it is used or manipulated on a 1.5 inch brass valve from Crane Co.
"If you had a flanged end and you're bolting that into a piping system, then you have to have a gasket in order to make a proper fit," he explained.
He showed the jury how a gasket would seal the surface of the valve to prevent a metal-to-metal contact, which would leak.
"All they are is sealing devices," Pantaleoni said. "They're just put in there to prevent leakage."
Therefore, the gasket is not actually part of the valve.
Pantaleoni made it clear that while asbestos was not necessary in a gasket, gaskets were necessary in certain types of valves. Without a proper sealant, the valve or a line could explode.
Answering a juror's question, he explained that packing isn't necessary in all valves. But for those that do require packing, the material would go in the stem of the valve. Packing is not friable, but if it is dry it could still be dusty, he said.
Regardless of whether or not asbestos was required, Pantaleoni said Crane Co. was following Navy specifications, which dictated exactly what was needed. Drawings identified every part or component part and the materials associated with it.
"Well, the Navy was the most stringent customer that Crane had," he said.
"If that specification said that had to be asbestos, that's what it had to be," he added.
The Navy even provided inspectors located in Crane Co.'s operations to make sure the products met those specifications and often performed random testing on those products.
Because the Navy specifically asked for flange valves, gaskets were required, he said. And those gaskets had to be asbestos to meet military specifications, he said.
Answering a juror's question, Pantaleoni said Crane Co. provided technical manuals if the Navy requested them, but in most cases, the Navy would take those and produce their own manuals. However, he added that he has never seen a technical manual for a pump or a valve.
During redirect by the defense, Pantaleoni said it was his understanding that the Navy did not provide respirators for use aboard their ships when working with asbestos-containing materials.
When asked about the safety efforts Crane Co. took, he explained that Crane Co. didn't believe its products were dangerous and he never came across any issues relating to gaskets and packing health hazards.
During cross examination by plaintiff attorney Frank Wathen, he said Crane Co. never performed any testing or research on those products because it didn't manufacture them and didn't believe they were problematic.
"We didn't see a reason to because of the nature of what we did," Pantaleoni said.
Pantaleoni agreed that Crane Co. knew the gaskets would eventually have to be removed, but didn't test for those situations because the forceful removal of dry gaskets was not performed in Crane Co.'s operations.
The efforts Crane Co. did make towards health and safety in the factories began in the early 1900s with Dr. Andrew Harvey, who was a leader of occupational health and safety.
Pantaleoni said Harvey set up medical programs and rehabilitation for Crane Co. employees before a Workers' Compensation program existed. His efforts provided injured employees an opportunity to continue earning a wage while regaining health, he said. It benefited families who depended on the wages and Crane Co. which depended on having healthy workers, he said.
Fast-forwarding to Pantaleoni's time, he said Crane Co. ensures the factories meet safety regulations and laws while remaining very clean for proper valve construction and controlling dusty areas to prevent any asbestos exposure.
"When we were looking at our plant operations, we wanted to make sure they were safe for all of our employees," he said.
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