Located in Cincinnati, Ohio, the Eagle-Picher Corporation currently operates as EaglePicher. The company was founded in 1842 under the name of Eagle White Lead Works by Edgar and Stephen Conkling. The business was originally created to produce a durable form of paint that contained white lead. As the company expanded, they dabbled in creating other types of construction supplies, including pipes and various other plumbing supplies. The business grew parallel to the American economy, which was growing rapidly during that time.
In 1906, Eagle was bought out by the Picher Lead Company, and the companies officially merged nine years later. That same decade, with Oliver Picher in charge, the newly-formed Eagle-Picher Corporation expanded into zinc manufacturing, and by the 1920s was the country’s leading producer of zinc while still successfully trading in lead. During the Great Depression, the company again took on a new product line, this time in the form of slag wool, a fibrous insulating material created from slag, which is a type of smelting waste. Eagle-Picher prospered during the Second World War, when many of their products were necessary for the war effort. This prosperity continued throughout the housing boom in the following decades.
During the early 1900s, piping and insulation products were manufactured with heat resistant materials. The most common of these was asbestos, which had a phenomenal ability to resist high heat, protecting those who touched them. Asbestos was used for a variety of other plumbing equipment as well. The material could be effective in gaskets and seals necessary for the modern plumbing which was experiencing a boom during the post-war period. Eagle-Picher also manufactured asbestos cement, and their slag wool was contaminated, as well.
To produce these items, workers constantly handled asbestos on a daily basis. While manufacturing the products, dust was often sent into the air and inhaled by employees. The material can never be removed from the body once it enters. Individuals are at little immediate risk of major health issues, but after years of the dust residing in the chest or abdomen, diseases can form. After decades, many workers in the pipe manufacturing industry are at risk of developing mesothelioma, asbestosis or another related illness. Mesothelioma is an extremely dangerous form of cancer that affects people who previously inhaled asbestos. There are not many treatment options, and most are only effective when the disease is found early enough.