As one of the largest construction material manufacturers in North America, the GAF Materials Corporation has played an important part of the country’s economy since 1929. Though their main products are residential and commercial roofing supplies, they also offer items like decking, decorative stones, air control pipes and railings. In the early days of the business, when it was known as the I.G. Farben-Industrie, its primary interests were in the chemical production industry, producing things like solvents, medicine, paint, and photographic film for both still and moving pictures.
In 1939 the business’s name was changed to the General Aniline and Film Corporation, having acquired the Aniline family of products. Because of the company’s German relations, it was one of a handful of business that was taken over by the U.S. government during World War II. This led competitors like Kodak, Xerox and Dupont to eventually overtake them in the chemical and film industries.
Control was finally returned in 1965, and two years later the company bought the Ruberoid Corporation, which is when it entered the roofing supply business. With this merger, however, came the production of many items that contained asbestos, which was once used heavily in the construction industry for its heat and corrosion-resistant properties. These same properties also made it a popular material in protective garments, such as those used by individuals who worked with chemicals. Additionally, at one point GAF owned the most productive asbestos mine in Virginia.
Though the mine was shut down in 1975 and the dangers of asbestos became commonly known soon thereafter, many GAF employees had already been exposed to asbestos, either in mines, factories, or protective clothing. While asbestos poses few immediate dangers, in the long term it can cause conditions such as lung scarring, asbestosis, and even mesothelioma cancer. Researchers and government officials believe that the actual number of reported cases for these illnesses is far higher than those reported. One of the biggest problems doctors and researchers have come in the form of diagnosis. Without patients informing them of previous exposure, it can be extremely difficult to pinpoint the cause of their problems. Many employees aren’t even aware that they had any prior contact while working at the company.
Though GAF declared bankruptcy in 2001, partially as a result of asbestos lawsuits, the company was able to reorganize and continue business.