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VICTIMS OF DIESEL EXPOSURES

Railroad Workers & Asbestos

Published on March 7th, 2018 by Andrew L. Hughes

Asbestos was identified as a toxin by the Association of American Railroads in 1937. By 1958, railroads knew asbestos caused cancer. After 1960, it was medically accepted that asbestos definitely causes mesothelioma. Despite that, locomotive and parts manufacturers didn’t stop including asbestos in their brakes, clutches, gaskets and insulation until the mid-1980’s. What’s worse, for a variety of reasons, many current railroad employees are still being exposed to asbestos.

Asbestos was used because it was cheap, durable, and flexible. It performed so well that finding viable replacements proved difficult. The extreme heat and fire-resistant properties of asbestos made it the insulating material of choice. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) limited the use of asbestos in materials in the 1970’s. However, the railroad industry continued to use asbestos extensively, despite knowing the health risks their employees were taking by working around asbestos.

Asbestos was used extensively throughout the railroad industry. Asbestos was the primary material used for insulation on pipes, electrical panels, engines, boilers, and other machinery. Many locomotive parts, such as clutches, brake linings, and brake pads, contained asbestos. It was included in various railroad equipment such as the cement in railroad ties, gaskets, wallboards, and plaster. Even the floor tiles, walls, and ceilings in train passenger cars were lined with asbestos.

Due to the pervasive use of asbestos across the railroad, workers were exposed to asbestos on a daily basis, making railroad work particularly dangerous. These workers included: machinists, boilermakers, pipefitters, engineers, yardmasters, conductors, brakemen, car and track department workers, and many others.

Asbestos was used in many locomotive parts, such as clutches, brake linings and brake pads, because it was resistant to friction and heat. These parts would eventually wear down and need to be replaced. As a result, train crews inhaled asbestos whenever these parts became worn out, as they released asbestos fibers into the air. Machinists and car men who tore out the old asbestos containing parts and then shaped, cut and installed new asbestos parts had some of the most profound exposures. All locomotive and car shop employees would have suffered asbestos exposures because the asbestos dust was everywhere inside the railroad shops, hovering there amidst the diesel exhaust and welding fumes.

Because materials containing asbestos were used so expansively on trains, exposure was still likely even if a railroad worker didn’t have direct responsibility for maintenance or repair. Due to the work that was being performed, the surrounding environment was prone to being filled with asbestos fibers. As a result, even supervisors were at risk of exposure to asbestos. Some railroad employees wore their work clothes home. These clothes were often covered in asbestos dust and other carcinogens like diesel exhaust and thus when a loved shook out the clothes before laundering them, these so-called secondary exposures could end up sickening wives and other family members. Tragically, there have been many cases of housewives developing mesothelioma simply from doing their husband’s laundry over the years.

There are four main asbestos related diseases that railroad workers could be at risk for developing: mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, and laryngeal cancer. Unfortunately, the effects of long-term exposure to asbestos typically don’t arise for 10 to 40 years after initial exposure.

Mesothelioma is a rare and serious form of cancer that is caused by asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma most often affects the tissue surrounding the lungs, but other types of mesothelioma affects tissue in the abdomen. Signs and symptoms of mesothelioma vary depending on where the cancer occurs, but common symptoms can include chest or abdominal pain, painful coughing, shortness of breath, unusual lumps on the chest or abdomen, and unexplained weight loss. Mesothelioma can take up to 30 to 40 years to develop after the initial asbestos exposure.

Asbestos exposure can also cause asbestos related lung cancer. There are two forms of lung cancer: small cell and non-small cell. The prognosis and treatment of lung cancer depends on the type and stage of cancer. Symptoms can include shortness of breath, chest pain, chronic respiratory infections, coughing up blood, swelling of the face or neck, and loss of appetite. Typically, many of these symptoms will arise once cancer reaches a late stage of development, so diagnosis of early stage lung cancer is rare. Treatment options may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and other experimental approaches may be available. Asbestos related lung cancer may develop 15 to 30 years after the initial asbestos exposure.

Asbestosis is a chronic lung disease that, like mesothelioma, is only caused by asbestos exposure. Prolonged exposure to asbestos fibers can cause lung scar tissue to build, which causes difficulty breathing and reduced blood flow. Symptoms of asbestosis can include shortness of breath, a persistent and dry cough, chest tightness or pain, unexplained weight loss, and clubbing of fingertips and toes (fingertips and toes appear wider and rounder than normal).

Exposure to asbestos has also been linked to laryngeal cancer. Laryngeal cancer is a relatively rare disease that affects the larynx, most commonly known as the voice box. The risk of developing laryngeal cancer increases with the duration and extent of asbestos exposure. Signs and symptoms may include a sore throat, cough, difficulty swallowing, changes in your voice, such as hoarseness, and ear pain.

The railroads contend that no asbestos containing material has been added to locomotives manufactured after 1985. But surprisingly, when a CSX locomotive facility at Selkirk in New York was inspected by OSHA in 2015, OSHA reported that “employees are being forced to be exposed to friable asbestos lined pipes while working on locomotives.” These locomotives had been refurbished in Canada or Mexico and the workers assumed that asbestos containing parts were installed during those refurbishments.

With regard to the Selkirk shop, OSHA issued citations, dated June 11, 2015, for the following violations of the OSHA asbestos standard:

1. CSX failed to perform air monitoring on its workers.
2. CSX failed to establish regulated areas to keep workers away from asbestos.
3. CSX did not inform workers of the presence, location and quantity of asbestos.
4. CSX did not place signs or labels on asbestos containing material.
5. CSX failed to train its employees working with damaged ACM.
6. CSX did not maintain surfaces as free as practicable of asbestos waste, debris, and dust.

At Diesel Injury Law, we take a full survey of the workplace in determining which toxins, including diesel exhaust and asbestos, contributed to cause the diagnosed occupational illness. The railroads have known that asbestos causes cancer for over 50 years. And yet, today’s railroad workers continue to be at risk for asbestos exposures. If you suspect that your illness of that of a loved one could be related to workplace exposures, contact Diesel Injury Law today for a free attorney consultation.

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