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Railroad Shop Workers, Solvents & Leukemia

Railroads rely on solvents to break down the grime and grease that accumulates on locomotives and railcars. Many of the most popular railroad solvents are petroleum-based solvents. Historically, benzene was often found in these petroleum-based solvents.  As a result of their exposures to the benzene present in petroleum solvents, many locomotive shop workers, car department employees, and track and engineering department workers are at an elevated risk of developing leukemia and other blood and bone marrow illnesses.

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    What are Petroleum Solvents?

    The term “petroleum solvent” refers to the large family of solvents that are derived from petroleum and/or petroleum by-products i.e. petroleum distillates. Mineral spirits, naphtha, gasoline, and diesel fuel are all examples of petroleum solvents.

    Many of the products which are advertised as solvents, degreasers, carburetor cleaners, brake cleaners, thinners, and strippers are petroleum solvents. Petroleum solvents are also an important constituent of many other railroad-related products such as coolants, lubricants, paints, and pesticides.

    Petroleum solvents have been widely used since the earliest days of the railroad industry. However, they are not the only dangerous type of solvent that has been employed by the railroads. Other dangerous solvents, such as chlorinated solvents, have been popular as well.

    Why are Petroleum Solvents Dangerous?

    Petroleum solvents are dangerous because they have historically contained benzene.

    Benzene is a carcinogenic aromatic hydrocarbon. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies benzene as a group one carcinogen. Examples of other group one carcinogens include asbestos, plutonium, and tobacco. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and National Institutes of Health (NIH) all classify benzene as a known carcinogen.

    Chronic exposure to benzene interferes with the normal function and production of blood cells. In fact, benzene can affect your genes in such a way that tests may be able to show genetic damage attributable to benzene exposures. Occupational benzene exposure can lead to the development of leukemia as well as other cancers and illnesses.

    In particular, benzene exposures cause acute myeloid leukemia (AML), myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL). Multiple myeloma, Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), and kidney cancer are linked as well.

    How Much Benzene is in Petroleum Solvents?

    While just about every petroleum distillate will contain some level of benzene, petroleum solvent products are especially notorious for their dangerous concentrations of benzene. Brand name products commonly found in railroad shops, such as Liquid Wrench, Gumout, Champion Brake Cleaner, SafetyKleen Parts Washers, CRC, and Kutzit, are all known to have contained dangerous levels of benzene.

    Were My Exposures Dangerous?

    There is no safe level of benzene exposure. A dangerous exposure to benzene in a petroleum solvent can occur through inhalation, dermal absorption, or ingestion. The countless railroad shop workers, car department employees, and trackmen who were required to use petroleum solvents on a daily basis are among those at the greatest risk for developing benzene-related illnesses, including leukemia.

    If you worked with petroleum solvents and can recall smelling a sweet, aromatic, gasoline-like aroma, you were likely being exposed to benzene. Unfortunately, if you can smell benzene (the “odor threshold”), you are inhaling unsafe levels. Dizziness or drowsiness are also common signs of an acute exposure to benzene.

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    Sample of Railroad Petroleum Solvent Exposure Verdict & Settlements:

    • $7,500,000 verdict – Railroad trackman employed by Chicago & North Western Railway and its successor Union Pacific Railroad Co. developed acute myeloid leukemia (AML) at the age of 51. During his 32-year career with the railroad, he was exposed to benzene-laden chemicals such as petroleum solvents, creosote, carbolineum, and coal tar distillates on a daily basis. The railroad failed to provide the trackman with protective equipment or even warn him of the danger. (Brown v. Union Pacific)
    • $300,000 settlement – Former railroad machinist was employed by Norfolk Southern Railway for 31 years before being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) at the age of 70. During his time with the railroad, he endured chronic exposures to petroleum solvents which he used on a daily basis in the locomotive shop. The Plaintiff produced Norfolk Southern records of meetings between railroad officials in which the use of benzene and the knowledge of its hazardous nature were discussed as early as the 1960s. (Booker v. Norfolk Southern)
    • Undisclosed Settlement – Former railroad laborer and machinist worked for CSX Transportation from April 1999 to September of 2003. He worked primarily at the Selkirk, New York Diesel Terminal where he was regularly soaked with diesel fuel to his skin. Often, he was so drenched in fuel that his wife required him to strip off his work clothes before entering their home. Following these exposures, he was diagnosed with leukemia and passed away shortly thereafter. (Dominy v. CSX Transp., Inc.)

    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.

    Our Law Firm Can Help

    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.

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