Railroad Workers and Multiple Myeloma

Published on June 25th, 2019 by Andrew L. Hughes

Multiple myeloma is cancer occurring in plasma cells located in bone marrow. Plasma is important for maintenance of a healthy immune system because it produces antibodies that allow the body to fight off infections and other germs. Simply put, multiple myeloma occurs when plasma cells grow out of control and begin to do more harm than good.

Though considered a cancer itself, multiple myeloma can lead to numerous other health issues, especially if left untreated. Anemia, bone and calcium issues, infections, and kidney problems can all arise with a multiple myeloma diagnosis.

Multiple myeloma often occurs first as a monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS). MGUS is associated with abnormal plasma cells, but they typically do not cause damage to the body. According to the Mayo Clinic, about 3 percent of Americans older than 50 have MGUS, with 1 percent of those people developing multiple myeloma or a related cancer through an advanced MGUS.

Multiple Myeloma and Workplace Exposures

Many studies have found that exposure to certain substances in the workplace increases one’s risk of multiple myeloma. Some of these substances include benzene, petroleum, organic solvents, formaldehyde, and herbicides and pesticides.  Because of their regular exposures to these products over their long careers, railroad workers are at elevated risk for being diagnosed with multiple myeloma.

Studies have shown that multiple myeloma is strongly associated with exposure to benzene and products containing benzene. Benzene is a naturally occurring component of crude oil. Benzene can be found in Diesel exhaust and in many petroleum-based products. In 1977, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NOISH) reported that as a result of benzene exposures associated with their work, rubber factory workers were four times more likely to be diagnosed with multiple myeloma than members of the general public.

Petroleum exposures can increase one’s chances of getting multiple myeloma. Petroleum exhaust exposure can be particularly high for workers who spend their days around vehicles and diesel-powered machines, with exposure being even greater when there is no proper ventilation of the workplace. A Japanese research study reported in 2005 found that there was an 8x greater risk of a multiple myeloma diagnosis in workers who were exposed to petroleum in the workplace.

Organic solvents like trichloroethylene (TCE) are also tied to an increased risk of getting multiple myeloma. TCE is an organic chemical that is used in industrial workplaces to degrease metal parts and make other chemicals. Workers in the railroad industry, as well as those who work in factories or other places that use industrial chemicals are at elevated risk for multiple myeloma because of their workplace exposures. Other chlorinated solvents similar to TCE have also been known to increase one’s risk of getting multiple myeloma.

Herbicides and pesticides are primarily used by agricultural workers and individuals in the landscaping/groundskeeping industries. Herbicides and pesticides have been known to contribute to a multitude of other disorders and illnesses in humans, therefore it is unsurprising that exposure to these toxins can be linked to a higher risk of multiple myeloma.

Formaldehyde is commonly used in synthetic chemicals, often in funeral homes and medical laboratories for conservation purposes. In 1985, NIOSH conducted a study examining workers in plants that manufactured clothing using formaldehyde to treat the cloth. NIOSH found that exposure to formaldehyde significantly increased the risk of multiple myeloma. It is worth noting that formaldehyde is also a component of diesel exhaust.

Multiple Myeloma can be Difficult to Diagnose

Symptoms of multiple myeloma sometimes do not occur until the later stages of the cancer. However, when they do appear, they can include bone pain, brittle bones or bone breaks, nausea, constipation, weight loss and loss of appetite, weakness or fatigue, and frequent infections.

In order to diagnose multiple myeloma, your doctor will likely perform multiple tests. A blood test can be used to look for low blood cell counts. Urine tests can be used to look for myeloma proteins that are being filtered through the body. Biopsies of the bone marrow can help a doctor examine marrow tissue to determine if further treatment is needed. Cytogenetic testing is often conducted. X-rays, CT scans, and imaging tests can detect bone destruction that myeloma cells may cause. (American Cancer Society)

Treatment for multiple myeloma can be tailored to one specific section of the body (local treatments) or be designed to target cancer anywhere within the body (systemic treatments). Surgery, radiation therapy, drugs, or stem cell transplants are all viable options for the treatment of multiple myeloma, however treatment for a specific person’s diagnosis will depend on the stage of the cancer, as well as their individual preferences.

Contact Hughes Law Offices

If you believe you are suffering from Multiple Myeloma due to diesel exhaust or other toxic exposures, call and speak with FELA cancer lawyer Andrew Hughes today.  You can reach Andrew at 312-877-5588.

Illustrative Multiple Myeloma cases

$1,660,000 verdict – 42-year-old diesel mechanic was diagnosed with multiple myeloma after applying floor coating products over a period of one year. He died two years after his diagnosis. At trial, the plaintiff’s employer was found 68.5% negligent and the product’s distribution company was found 27.5% negligent for not warning of the dangerous chemicals the floor coating contained.
Rita Evans, et al., v. Select Products

Undisclosed total settlement – an auto body shop worker and truck driver was exposed to paints, thinners and lacquers, and diesel fumes throughout a period of 17 years. Plaintiff was diagnosed with multiple myeloma due to his exposure to benzene.
Frank Sundquist and Amy Sundquist v. BP West Coast Products LLC, et al.

$1,000,000 verdict – plaintiff worked as a tree sprayer in his late teens, where he was exposed to unsafe levels of herbicides. He alleged that the herbicide exposures caused him to develop multiple myeloma.
Terry Dipetrillo v. DOW Chemical Co. et al.


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