Diesel Injury Law

Diesel Injury Law Blog

Emphysema and Railroad Workers

Emphysema is one of two conditions found under the general diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Emphysema is a condition that causes the air sacs in your lungs to deteriorate, making it hard to breathe and deliver proper amounts of oxygen to the body.  As a result of long-term exposures to dusts, diesel exhaust and other particulates, railroad workers are disproportionately diagnosed with emphysema.

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    There is no cure for emphysema. However, the National Emphysema Foundation estimates that approximately 3.1 million Americans are living with the diagnosis.

    Occupational exposure to exhausts, fumes and dusts are some of the main causes of emphysema, both of which occur in higher consistencies in industrial workplaces like railroads, locomotive shops, and warehouses. There are other risk factors that can increase one’s chances of receiving an emphysema diagnosis, including older age, smoking tobacco, and exposure to secondhand smoke in the home or workplace.

    Railroad Exposures That Cause Emphysema

    Many studies have suggested that exposure to certain inhaled substances in the workplace increases one’s risk of emphysema. Some of these exposures include diesel exhaust, coal and mineral dust, silica dust, welding fumes, and secondhand smoke.

    railroad multiple myeloma

    A study conducted by the Medical College of Wisconsin noted that exposure to coal and mineral dusts play a significant role in the development of emphysema in industrial workers. Specifically, in newly employed coal miners, the study found that lung function started to significantly decline after just two years of work in the mines.

    Silica is another substance which can contribute to emphysema. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that chronic levels of silica dust that do not cause silicosis may instead lead to conditions like emphysema, chronic bronchitis, or small airways disease. Silica dusts are created when materials are cut, drilled, or grinded down, and can cause harm when inhaled.

    In the railroad context, silica sand is used to aid in locomotive braking and piles of silica sand can often be found throughout railroad yards and shops.

    Unfortunately, railroad workers are cross-exposed to silica, diesel exhaust and asbestos, all known causes of emphysema.

    Welding fumes, similar to the effects of smoking, can cause many respiratory issues in individuals who are around them consistently. Welding fumes are made up of a mix of metallic oxides, silicates, and fluorides. When heated above its boiling point, the vapors that are created can be ingested by workers and lead to occupational diseases, including emphysema.

    Secondhand smoke can cause comparable health issues to bystanders as smokers. Secondhand smoke comes from a mixture of the smoke a burning cigarette emits, alongside smoke exhaled by a smoker into surrounding air. Secondhand smoke is especially troublesome in workplaces without proper ventilation or designated smoking areas.

    Importance of Emphysema Screenings

    Individuals with emphysema can go years without displaying any symptoms. Shortness of breath is the most common symptom, which may eventually start to occur during low-impact daily tasks. Shortness of breath can also lead to other symptoms like blue or grey lips or fingernails, and even mental detriments.

    Though emphysema cannot be cured, early detection can help to relieve symptoms. Tests to diagnose emphysema include lung function testing, chest x-rays, and blood gas analyses to measure how well oxygen travels from the lungs through the bloodstream. Emphysema can be treated via bronchodilators (medications that help relax the bronchial muscles and help airflow) and certain steroid medications found in inhalers. Specific courses of treatment will be determined by your individual doctor.

    Contact Hughes Law Offices

    If you believe you are suffering from Emphysema due to diesel exhaust or other toxic railroad exposures, our team at Hughes Law Offices can help. Contact us today to get started.

    Illustrative Emphysema Verdicts

    $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.

    $868,787.64 verdict – plaintiff worked as a drywall taper for 47 years where he used asbestos-containing drywall products, including joint compound, ceiling spray, and spray texture. Plaintiff developed emphysema, and after his death, it was discovered that he also had asbestosis.
    Aline Ivance, et al. v. Rich-Tex, Inc.

    $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.

    $600,000 verdict – 66-year-old sandblaster was diagnosed with severe emphysema and silicosis after 9 years of employment. He eventually died of respiratory failure. At trial, it was discovered that despite the employer’s knowledge of health hazards associated with sandblasting, the company did not provide warnings to its workers.
    Donald Thompkins and Ruby L Thompkins v. U.S. Silica Company, et al.

    $1,300,000 verdict – Plaintiff, a brick manufacturer, used sand and quartz that contained silica throughout his 30 years of employment. Plaintiff was diagnosed with advanced pulmonary emphysema and ultimately died. It was alleged that the defendant intentionally exposed the plaintiff to silica by allowing him to work in dusty conditions.
    Viola Altvater, Per. Rep. of Est. of Robert Altvater v. Clay Craft Company

    Hughes Law Offices is providing case histories to inform visitors about actual case fact patterns and rulings in your area. Unless specifically noted, the cases summarized herein were not handled by attorneys at Hughes Law Offices.

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