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Railroad Workers, Herbicide Exposures, and Parkinson’s Disease

Recent medical studies provide compelling evidence linking railroad workers' herbicide exposures to Parkinson's disease.  The railroads rely on herbicides to control vegetation on mainline tracks, at rail crossings, and inside their rail yards. Most railroads spray their entire system with herbicides at least twice per year.  As a result, these herbicides fill the air and dust that is inhaled by brakemenconductorslocomotive engineerscar department employees, and members of the maintenance of way (track) department.

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    Exposure to herbicides heightens the risk of developing various cancers such as Non-Hodgkin’s lymphomalung cancerbladder cancer, and laryngeal cancer. In addition, exposure to herbicides has been linked to a significantly elevated risk of developing neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.

    In 2018, The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division published a case-control study on its workers.  The scientists conducting the study reported that maintenance of way employees were 3-times more likely to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s than members of the general public. The fact that these employees spend their work lives in an environment sprayed with herbicides may account for this increased risk.

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    Which Railroad Herbicides Have Been Linked to Parkinson’s?

    Paraquat and Parkinson’s

    In recent years, a growing tide of scientific studies have connected herbicide exposure with Parkinson’s disease. One herbicide that is frequently identified in these studies is Paraquat. Paraquat is an extremely potent herbicide. Even a small sip of paraquat would be lethal to an adult. It is so lethal that its use has been banned in more than 30 countries, including China. Paraquat, in addition to being deadly, is cheap. As a result, Paraquat has been a favorite herbicide of the railroads for decades. Even today, rail tracks all across the United States are liberally doused with this deadly chemical cocktail.

    Paraquat was first tied to Parkinson’s over a decade ago. In a 2009 study published by the American Journal of Epidemiology, the exposure to paraquat within 1,600 feet increased the risk of Parkinson’s disease by 75%. The individuals who were exposed at age 60 or younger were found to be at a much greater risk. A 2012 study published by the Parkinson’s Institute found that when people with certain genetic backgrounds are exposed to Paraquat, they are at an 11-fold increased risk for being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Today, Paraquat is routinely used in laboratory research to induce and study parkinsonism in animal subjects.

    Paraquat is not the only pesticide that has been linked to Parkinson’s disease. A study published in 2020 by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health monitored the incidence rate of Parkinson’s disease across the state of Louisiana from 2006 to 2012. The study found that the risk of Parkinson’s disease was much greater in the agricultural areas where farmers were using 2, 4-D, Paraquat, and other herbicides linked to the disease.

    2,4-D and Parkinson’s

    The herbicide 2,4-D is another enormously popular herbicide used by the railroads. 2,4-D (also commonly called amine) has been in use since 1945. Like Paraquat, 2,4-D is cheap and effective. 2,4-D was one of the primary ingredients of the infamous Agent Orange which was a tactical herbicide used by the U.S. Military during the Vietnam War. Agent Orange is notorious for its links to the development of various cancers and Parkinson’s disease.

    Norfolk’s Southern’s Toxic Herbicide Mixture

    A September of 1988 memorandum addressed to the General Foreman of Norfolk Southern’s John Sevier Yard discussed the “optimal formulations” of the herbicides to be used around Knoxville, Tennessee.  In order to control Johnsongrass and Kudzu, the railroad chose to use a formulation that included both 2,4-D (which causes Parkinson’s) and RoundUp (which causes non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma).  The memorandum touts the safety of the mixture, its application from backpack units, and most important to the railroad, states that the herbicides “can be purchased at a substantial discount through Material Management.”  Once again, this memorandum is evidence of the railroads’ overarching tendency to prioritize cost savings over worker safety.

    If you’ve been diagnosed with Parkinson’s after working for the railroad, call Hughes Law Offices today.  There is a limited amount of time after the diagnosis to file a lawsuit.  Call 312-877-5588 today.

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