Diesel Injury Law

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For Railroad Workers, Carcinogens are All Around

Unfortunately, the railroad professionals who facilitate the transport of around 370 million people and 1.7 billion tons of freight in the U.S. every year are at risk for cancer as a result of being exposed to toxic chemicals while on the job. 1-2

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    What Toxins are Railroad Workers Exposed to?

    The list of toxins that the railroad companies expose their employees to is long and varied. Some of the carcinogens which railroad workers have historically been exposed to in large quantities include:

    Which Cancers are Railroad Workers at Risk of Developing?

    Railroad workers are at elevated risk of developing a variety of cancers as a result of their workplace exposures including lung cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, throat cancer, stomach cancer, colorectal cancer, mesothelioma, and various leukemias such as acute myeloid leukemia and myelodysplastic syndrome. Multiple non-cancer illnesses, such as respiratory conditions, toxic encephalopathy, and Parkinson’s disease, have also been associated with toxic exposures in the railroad industry.

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    What is the Level of Risk?

    A railroad worker’s risk of developing cancer as a result of occupational exposures to a carcinogen depends on the dose of their exposure. Dose refers to how much of the carcinogen enters the body and then reaches the organs that are vulnerable to that carcinogen. Doctors estimate dose based on how many years a person was regularly exposed, how frequently that person was exposed during those years, and the intensity of the individual exposures. Depending on the toxin, low-level exposures over the long term can be just as damaging as high-intensity exposures over a short period of time. Unfortunately, the opportunities for low-level and high-level exposures in the railroad industry are abundant, and railroad workers’ careers frequently span 30 years or more.

    Which Railroad Personnel are Exposed to Harmful Chemicals?

    The risk of harmful exposure is a problem that is widespread throughout the railroad industry. Trackmen, car department personnel, locomotive engineers and conductors, and locomotive shop workers are all at risk. Railroad upper management, who are responsible for the safety of their employees, have historically been much more interested in maximizing profits than reducing harmful chemical exposures among their workforce. Consequently, even today toxic exposures are a regular occurrence in the industry.

    How Can I Protect Myself from Harmful Exposures?

    The following precautions may help reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals.

    • Find out what you’re being exposed to. Determining which carcinogens are in your working environment is critical for minimizing your exposure.

    • Wear appropriate personal protective equipment. Harmful exposures can occur by breathing a carcinogen in the air, ingesting a carcinogen in food or water, or by absorbing a carcinogen through your skin. Personal protective equipment, such as respirators, can dramatically reduce the intensity of your exposures.

    • Tell your doctor you work for the railroad. Making your healthcare provider aware of your workplace exposures helps doctors identify potential cancers sooner. For example, a doctor knowing that you have been exposed to carcinogens on the job may be the difference between being diagnosed with a nasty cough and being diagnosed with lung cancer.

    • Notify the Railroad. If you’re working in a smoke-filled shop, complain to your supervisors in writing. Insist on better practices and ventilation. If you’re operating locomotives long-hood forward through tunnels filled with diesel exhaust, file reports with the local Safety Committee. Put the railroad on notice that it is failing to safeguard the workplace.

    • Pay attention to any signs of illness. Symptoms that appear minor, may be the early indicators of a developing illness.

    If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with an illness after being exposed to harmful chemicals on the railroad, it may be time to speak with a lawyer.  Hughes Law Offices may be able to help.  Call 312-877-5588 today and speak directly with an attorney. All consultations are 100% free of charge. Your time to file a lawsuit is limited.



    [1] https://safetydata.fra.dot.gov/OfficeofSafety/publicsite/Query/rrstab.aspx

    [2] https://www.aar.org/data-center/railroads-states/

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