The North American Refractories Company (NARCO) is now part of the ANH group of companies. NARCO and the other companies in the ANH family supply high-quality, fire-resistant ceramic products for high-temperature treatments in several industries, including cement, lime, glass, iron, steel and environmental technologies. However, the North American Refractories Company was originally an independent corporation. It was purchased by Honeywell in 1979, and has since changed hands several times. In 1986, NARCO was sold to a German corporation, Didier-Werke AG; RHI, bought Didier-Werke AG in 1994, thus acquiring NARCO; ANH Refractories purchased the company in the year 2000. Today, the North American Refractories Company has about 700 employees.
The corporation manufactures refractory products for the steel industry at several distribution points throughout the U.S. Refractory materials are heat-resistant substances that remain strong, even at very high temperatures. These substances are derived from minerals which occur naturally. Refractories have more heat resistance than metals and are necessary for heating treatments above 1000°F. In addition to being heat-resistant, refractory materials must be durable enough to stand up to day-to-day wear and corrosion caused by chemicals. Since the various ingredients in refractories have different characteristics, many of these materials have been created for specific uses. In industry, for example, refractories are used to make linings for fireplaces, furnaces, boilers, and kilns.
During the 20th century, many refractory products contained a certain amount of asbestos. In fact, many refractory businesses used asbestos as far back as the 19th century. The percentage of asbestos in products at that time was often very high because it was considered to be a valuable fire-retardant material. It was also cheap, and available in abundance. Some corporate officials became aware of the hazards of asbestos use but did not find effective substitutes or provide protective equipment for their employees. In many cases, protective gear can prevent or minimize the inhalation of asbestos dust. As a result, many refractory employees, steel mill workers, oil refinery workers, chemical plant workers, boilermakers, miners, potters, glazers, and other tradesmen developed asbestos-related illnesses, including mesothelioma.