What are Chlorinated Solvents?
Chlorinated solvents are a family of chemical compounds that contain chlorine. They generally appear in the form of a colorless liquid with a sweet aroma. Widespread use of chlorinated solvents in the United States began in the 1940s, and it was not long before they were among the most popular solvents available.
Until recently, chlorinated solvents were commonly employed as the active ingredient in many household and industrial products which were sold for use as a solvent or degreaser. While chlorinated solvents comprised a small fraction of the composition of household products, the railroads frequently bought and used chlorinated solvents in their pure, undiluted form. Some of the chlorinated solvents that were commonly used in the railroad industry include trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene (also known as perchloroethylene or PERC), 1,1,1-trichloroethane (TCA), and dichloromethane (also known as methylene chloride or DCM).
How Dangerous are Chlorinated Solvents?
At high concentrations, a short-term exposure to a chlorinated solvent can quickly result in unconsciousness followed by coma and even death. Chronic exposures, even at low levels, can cause lasting damage. In fact, the health implications for those who endure these low-dose but long-term exposures are generally much more serious. Chronic exposure to chlorinated solvents commonly results in irreversible damage to the liver, kidneys, lungs, blood, and central nervous system.
Chlorinated solvents are particularly notorious for their neurotoxicity. The initial effects of exposure might seem relatively minor and can include dizziness, headaches, and drowsiness. However, these symptoms may be the first signs of long-term neurological damage. For some, the neurological damage that is caused by exposure to chlorinated solvents manifests itself relatively quickly. However, for others, the effects may only become apparent years or decades after their last exposure.
Toxic encephalopathy is one of the most common diagnoses among those who have endured chlorinated solvent exposure. Toxic encephalopathy is a broad term that is used to refer to brain damage that is induced by exposure to a toxin. Some chlorinated solvents, such as TCE and PERC, are also now being tied to the development of Parkinson’s disease much later in life.
In addition to their neurotoxic effects, many chlorinated solvents are classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as known or probable carcinogens. In particular, chlorinated solvent exposure has been linked with the development of kidney cancer, bladder cancer, liver cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and multiple myeloma.
Even under normal conditions, chlorinated solvents are quick to evaporate, but can hang in the air for days. As a result, anyone who worked in or around an area where chlorinated solvents were being used would have suffered some level of exposure.
Documents uncovered during litigation have shown that railroad industry officials acknowledged as far back as 1957 that chlorinated solvents were dangerous and that shop ventilation was sometimes inadequate. Railroads knew that workers needed respiratory protection. Nonetheless, the railroad employees who were using these solvents often worked in unventilated environments without even the most basic protective equipment.
To make matters worse, in many instances the railroads repeatedly assured their workers that the solvents were harmless. Without proper warnings and training, railroads workers did not protect themselves. Many never tried to limit their exposures. Former railroad employees have testified that they would use chlorinated solvents to wash their hands. One client said he and his co-workers washed their overalls in the PERC tank at the end of each day.
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Sample of Railroad Solvent Exposure Verdicts:
- $12,000,000 verdict – The 36-year-old plaintiff worked as a laborer at CSX’s Hamlet yard in North Carolina for approximately six years where he was exposed to various solvents including TCE and DCM. The Plaintiff developed brain abnormalities consistent with toxic encephalopathy and chronic solvent-induced dementia. He suffered from severe short-term memory loss, severe difficulty concentrating, headaches, and other problems. Testing indicated that he was functioning at the level of an 80-year-old. At trial, railroad workers testified how they would frequently feel dizzy and drunk from the solvent fumes. When they complained to supervisors they were simply told to go outside and take a “fresh air break.” Repeated requests for ventilators were either ignored or denied. Judgment was reduced by 12% for Plaintiff’s comparative negligence. (Crouch v. CSX)
- $2,000,000 verdict – Railroad machinist working at CSX’s South Louisville Yard in Kentucky was required to use DowClene, a solvent which was 75% TCA and 25% PERC to clean electrical equipment and locomotive parts. He was never instructed or trained to use a respirator and he eventually developed toxic encephalopathy. The judgment was reduced to $ 1,800,000 to reflect the finding of the Plaintiff’s 10% contributory negligence. (Williams v. CSX Transp. Inc.)
- $500,000 verdict – Railroad carman was employed by BNSF for 30 years working primarily at Gibson Yard and then later Havelock Yard in Nebraska. Over the course of his career working for BNSF he was made to use a number of dangerous solvents & chemicals including TCA. As a result of these exposures he developed cirrhosis of the liver and esophageal varices. (Boren v. BNSF)
- $732,598 verdict – A former CSX employee worked as a laborer spraying TCA on locomotives using a pressurized sprayer. He was later promoted to the role of machinist which required him to use TCA to clean locomotive parts. His exposures to TCA regularly made him feel high or drunk. As a result of his exposure, he developed toxic encephalopathy. (O’Bannon v. CSX Transp. Inc.)
- $2,740,000 verdict – Former railroad service attendant and machinist was required to use DowClene to clean inspection pits, ramps, and anything else on the premises that required cleaning. He frequently worked in enclosed areas and would often become lightheaded, dizzy, and nauseated, necessitating him to go outside for a “fresh air break.” As a result of his exposures he developed toxic encephalopathy. (Moody v. CSX Transp. Inc.)
- $ 3,000,000 verdict – A 57-year-old railroad shop worker was repeatedly exposed to toxic solvents while working at CSX’s Corbin Yard and South Louisville Yard in Kentucky. He was diagnosed with solvent-induced brain damage which caused him to suffer depression, anxiety, memory loss, and a balance disorder that forced him to walk with a cane. The judgment was reduced to $1,950,000 for the Plaintiff’s 35% comparative negligence. (Lone v. CSX Transp. Inc.)
- $5,000,000 verdict – Railroad electrician worked at CSX’s Corbin Yard in Kentucky where he was exposed to toxic solvents including TCE, PERC, and TCA as well as asbestos. Following his exposure he was diagnosed with toxic encephalopathy and asbestosis. As a result of his brain damage he suffered from constant memory loss, anxiety, and depression. At trial, the Plaintiff produced MRI’s of his brain which revealed it had shrunk in size. (Hensley v. CSX Transp. Inc.)
- $1,570,159 verdict – Railroad pipefitter was made to use chlorinated solvents as degreasing agents while working in a locomotive repair facility at CSX’s Corbin Yard. At trial, testimony by coworkers revealed how the solvents commonly made railroad workers feel dizzy, lightheaded, and ultimately pass out necessitating that their coworkers carry them outside to fresh air. He was later diagnosed with toxic encephalopathy. Judgment was reduced to $1,099,011 to offset the Plaintiff’s comparative negligence. (Monhollen v. CSX Trans. Inc.)
Hughes Law Offices is providing 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.
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If you or a loved one suspect that you have an illness related to railroad solvent exposure, contact Hughes Law Offices for a free consultation with an experienced railroad toxic tort attorney. Your time to file a lawsuit is limited. Call 312-877-5588 today.