Diesel Injury Law

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Myelodysplastic Syndrome & Railroad Workers

What is Myelodysplastic Syndrome?

Myelodysplastic syndromes occur where a group of poorly formed blood cells do not function properly, and therefore there are not enough healthy blood cells in the body. These syndromes happen as a result of bone marrow improperly making blood cells. As discussed below, railroad workers are at increased risk for myelodysplastic syndrome as a result of their workplace exposures.

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    Myelodysplastic syndromes develop over a longer period of time and are typically undetected in their initial stages. According to American Cancer Society, 1 in 3 patients with myelodysplastic syndrome (or “MDS”) will eventually have their condition progress to a rapidly growing bone marrow cancer called acute myeloid leukemia (“AML”).

    Myelodysplastic Syndrome, Benzene & Railroad Workers

    Exposure to benzene is one of the most common risk factors associated with myelodysplastic syndrome. Benzene is a component of petroleum products including diesel fuel and gasoline and is often used as a base material in products like plastics, degreasers, solvents, paints, thinners, lubricants, pesticides, rubbers, dyes, resins, and nylons. Historically, through their use of fuels, thinners, mineral spirits and paints, many railroad shop employees have suffered dangerous benzene exposures. Also, railroad laborers and hostlers involved in refueling operations are at elevated risk for MDS.

    Other Causes of Myelodysplastic Syndrome

    Alongside benzene, there are other causes of myelodysplastic syndromes that can be found especially in industrial workplaces. These include solvents, ammonia, agricultural chemicals, mercury, and lead.

    Solvents, including chemicals like trichloroethylene and perchloroethylene, are used in industrial workplaces to degrease metal parts and make other chemicals. Many railroad car department workers used these products. Locomotive machinists and pipe fitters used them as well. The risk of myelodysplastic syndrome is increased where these railroad solvents are used on a continuous basis.

    Ammonia is a common chemical used in fertilizers and disinfectants. Ammonia is used in the production of plastics, textiles, pesticides, and other chemicals, and many industrial settings use ammonia-based cleaning supplies because of its strength. Chronic ammonia exposures can contribute to many health issues including an increased risk of myelodysplastic syndrome.

    Agricultural chemicals like pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers are also known to increase one’s risk of getting myelodysplastic syndrome. These solutions have been known to contribute to a multitude of disorders and illnesses in humans, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and acute myeloid leukemia. Benzene is often found in herbicides and pesticides, and therefore these chemicals can be associated with myelodysplastic syndrome. Railroad trackman and other maintenance of way employees are at increased risk for myelodysplastic syndrome because of their exposures to herbicides.

    Exposure to mercury and lead have also been known to increase the risk of myelodysplastic syndrome. Mercury can be very dangerous to humans even at smaller quantities, and it can be found in the exhaust of diesel-powered engines like locomotives and industrial trucks. Lead compounds are also found in many diesel and gasoline products and can be ingested by humans through the exhaust. Both materials can lead to an increased risk of getting myelodysplastic syndrome.

    Myelodysplastic Syndrome – Difficult to Diagnose

    About 13,000 people are diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome in the U.S. each year. It is rare for myelodysplastic syndrome to show any symptoms in its early stages, so it often goes undetected for longer periods of time. When symptoms do occur, these include weight loss, fever, and bone pain. The diagnosis process often begins after a blood test reveals low blood cell counts. Having too few red blood cells is known as anemia, and can cause people to feel dizzy, tired, have a shortness of breath, and have pale skin. Not having enough white blood cells is known as leukopenia, and this can lead to frequent, more serious infections throughout the body. Having a lesser number of platelets is known as thrombocytopenia, and this can lead to easy bruising and excessive bleeding. These are all symptoms that can occur with myelodysplastic syndrome.

    Once it has been determined that a patient has myelodysplastic syndrome, treatment methods will be chosen. Patients can treat their MDS through chemotherapy, radiation, and stem cell transplants, as well as blood transfusions to increase the patient’s blood cell growth. Bone marrow transplants are also common for more high-risk patients. The specific treatment plan for each patient is determined by looking at the type of myelodysplastic syndrome, as well as the patient’s overall health and desires.

    Contact Hughes Law Offices

    If you believe you are suffering from myelodysplastic syndrome due to diesel or other toxic workplace exposures, call FELA cancer lawyer Andrew Hughes today at 312-877-5588. Let Andrew fight the railroad while you focus on your recovery.

    Illustrative MDS Case Verdicts

    $2,750,000 verdict – 33-year-old carpenter was employed by the Mobil Oil Refinery as part of the Clean Fuels Project. He died following a diagnosis of myelodysplastic syndrome and acute myelogenous leukemia from exposure to petroleum hydrocarbon vapors, and benzene from contaminated soil.

    (Richard Keaton and Judith Lewis v. Mobil Oil Corporation and Allwaste Environmental Services)

    $7,500,000 verdict – plaintiff worked as a gasoline tanker truck driver for Kinder Morgan Energy Partners for 6 years. During his years of employment, plaintiff loaded gasoline in a terminal between one to seven times a day for delivery. He was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome and died at age 58.

    (Sharon Claytor, personal representative of the Estate of Rick D. Lewis and Hilarie Lewis, heir to Rick D. Lewis v. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners)

    Undisclosed Settlement – plaintiff railroad worker developed myelodysplastic syndrome as a result of exposure to diesel fuel, diesel exhaust, benzene, and various solvents and degreasers.

    (Thomas J. Soden v. Amtrak)

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