What is COPD?
COPD is a common lung disease that makes it hard to breathe. There are two main forms of COPD: chronic bronchitis, which involves a recurring wet cough, and emphysema, which is a deterioration of the lungs over time. COPD is a common diagnosis, and it is incurable. However, proper treatment and monitoring can prevent the condition from worsening.
Occupational workplace exposures to irritants like silica, diesel fumes, secondhand smoke and welding fumes are among the top risk factors that contribute to a COPD diagnosis. Additionally, there are several other risk factors that can increase one’s chances of getting COPD, including smoking cigarettes.
COPD and Diesel Exhaust
Diesel fumes in the workplace are one of the most common triggers for a COPD diagnosis. According to COPD News, individuals who are exposed to diesel fumes in their workplace on a regular basis had a significantly higher risk of developing COPD. Additionally, a study published by Environ Health Perspect found that diesel exhaust contributed to an increased number of COPD-related deaths among railroad workers who were exposed to the exhaust regularly.
COPD and Occupational Exposures
Alongside diesel exhaust, many studies have suggested that exposure to certain substances in the workplace increases one’s risk of developing COPD. Some of these substances include cadmium dust, silica dust, pesticides, secondhand smoke, and welding fumes.
Cadmium is a silver-white metal that, when heated, emits poisonous fumes that can be inhaled. Cadmium is also present in cigarette smoke, making secondhand smoke another contributor to COPD. Secondhand smoke is especially problematic in work environments where there are no designated smoking areas.
Silica is a natural substance found in rocks, sand and clay. When grinded down, silica dust can be ingested and cause harmful health problems like COPD, alongside silicosis and occupational asthma. Herbicides are common in the farming and agricultural industries and are used for destroying weeds and unwanted vegetation. When herbicides are sprayed, they can be inhaled and affect an individual’s ability to breathe normally.
Welding fumes can also contribute to COPD, making it hard to breathe. Depending on the material being welded, several gases can be emitted—for example, steel welding produces mostly iron, with smaller amounts of other metals like chromium, titanium, and manganese. Exposure to welding fumes can also lead to many different cancers, including cancer of the urinary tract, nervous system, and kidney. Many railroad shop employees endured dangerous levels of welding fume exposures throughout their careers.
Importance of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Screenings
Symptoms of COPD include shortness of breath, wheezing, a tightening of the chest, and frequent coughing. These symptoms can appear and may be side effects of other diagnoses, but these symptoms will recur and get worse over time without proper treatment.
There are several tests to diagnose COPD, including lung function tests, chest x-rays, CT tests, and arterial blood gas analyses. These tests can be administered by a doctor who will be able to set a course of treatment for the COPD diagnosis.
Because COPD has different symptoms and severities for every individual, specific treatment options vary. The most common treatment option for COPD is medication like a bronchodilator. Other treatment methods include oxygen therapy, surgeries, and lifestyle changes that may help to lessen the symptoms of the condition.
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Illustrative Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Cases
$12,000,000 verdict – three plaintiffs between the ages of 54 and 61 who had worked for Long Island Railroad for over 15 years were diagnosed with pulmonary asbestosis and COPD. The plaintiffs worked as machinists who alleged that they were exposed to asbestos while grinding gaskets on a wire wheel and while working around contaminated locomotives. The plaintiffs alleged that the railroad violated FELA and failed to provide employees with a safe place to work. The jury awarded the workers $8 million, $6 million and $4 million.
Velez-Zapata v. Long Island R.R. (Aguirre, et al. v. Long Island R.R.)
Undisclosed Settlement – Hughes Law Offices obtained a settlement on behalf of a CSX locomotive engineer who was diagnosed with COPD after an acute exposure to extreme levels of diesel exhaust. The engineer and his conductor were pulling a loaded coal train through a tunnel up a steep grade when their lead locomotive overheated and stalled, spewing thick black smoke. The incident occurred because the locomotives provided by CSX did not have the adequate tonnage rating for the subject territory.
$213,900 verdict — Plaintiff, who worked as a track maintenance employee for over 24 years, where he was exposed to coal dust, vapors, diesel fumes, silica, creosote, chemicals, and a variety of airborne irritants. He suffered significant lung damage as a result of these exposures.
Alfman v. Conrail
$16,400,000 verdict – three retired Long Island Railroad machinists brought a FELA action against their employer due to the fact they had all developed COPD, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema, making it hard for them to breathe normally. All three workers alleged that they were exposed to asbestos while grinding gaskets on a wire wheel and while working around contaminated locomotives. One plaintiff’s award was reduced due to his history of smoking.
Aguirre, et al. v. Long Island Railroad Co.
$250,000 verdict – Over a period of 5 years, a truck driver who delivered scrap metal to the defendant’s manufacturing plant was exposed to toxic by-products of the cut steel, including ozone and excessive levels of nitrogen and sulfur dioxides. He alleged that this regular exposure resulted in an early onset of emphysema, which would have otherwise been caused by his smoking history.
Bauman v. N.J. Steel Corp.
Hughes Law Offices is providing COPD case histories to inform visitors about actual case fact patterns and rulings. Unless specifically noted, the cases summarized herein were not handled by attorneys at Hughes Law Offices.