Railroad workers are at elevated risk of leukemia and cancer as a result of occupational creosote exposures. 

What is Creosote? 

The term “creosote” refers to a large family of chemicals that are formed by the distillation of various tars and resins. Creosote is most commonly used as a wood preservative and pesticide. There are many different types of creosotes. Railroad workers are most commonly exposed to coal-tar creosote. 

Does Creosote Cause Cancer? 

Yes. Workplace exposures to creosote put railroad workers at higher risk of developing illnesses such as leukemia and cancer. Coal-tar creosotes are especially dangerous because they contain known carcinogens such as benzene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). 

Which Cancers are Caused by Creosote Exposure? 

Creosote exposure has been strongly associated with a variety of cancers such as lung cancer and skin cancer. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with one of the following you may be eligible for compensation.

How do Dangerous Creosote Exposures Occur? 

An individual can suffer a dangerous exposure to creosote by ingestion, inhalation, or absorption through the skin. Such exposures can occur when working with creosote or when working with wood that has been treated with creosote. 

Why are Railroad Workers Exposed to Creosote? 

Railroad workers are chronically exposed to creosote because the railroads use coal-tar creosote to preserve railroad ties. There are hundreds of thousands of miles of railroad tracks that cross the United States. For many decades, most of the railroad ties installed in the right of ways were treated with coal-tar creosote. 

How Much Coal-tar Creosote are Railroad Workers Exposed to?

Railroad workers are exposed to far more coal-tar creosote than the general public because access to coal-tar creosote is heavily restricted. Only individuals who have completed training and certification are able to obtain coal-tar creosote. Railroad workers, however, are not trained or certified to work with creosote and yet the railroads regularly expect their employees to work with and around creosote soaked rail ties. Any railroad worker who can recall a distinct tar-like smell while working around rail ties was being exposed to creosote. 

an old graveyard of trains there are a few steps of used Oak railway ties

Which Railroad Workers Suffer the Worst Exposures? 

Railroads workers who work directly with railroad ties tend to endure the worst exposures. Track or engineering department employees are at particular risk for creosote exposures along with individuals who work in the bridges and building department. A railroad tie will emit a third of the creosote that was applied to it over the course of its service time. Thus, individuals transporting rail ties or doing other track maintenance often inhale significant amounts of creosote vapor. Emissions can be particularly intense from new rail ties on hot days. Moreover, since creosote is easily absorbed through the skin, railroad workers can be dermally exposed to creosote any time they handle rail ties without protective clothing.

We have represented track gang workers who unloaded freshly creosoted rail ties from gondola cars. They describe standing in pools of creosote that accumulated in the bottoms of the rail cars. The creosote exposures during operations like this would have been extremely dangerous.

The railroads failed to warn their employees that exposure to creosote was dangerous. As such, many railroad workers did not attempt to limit their exposures. In fact, many of our clients describe instances where they lit creosote-covered ties on fire in the winter months to stay warm. These fires kicked off a host of carcinogenic fumes. Some railroad workers would even cook food over these fires. 

Significant creosote exposures are also common amongst railroad employees who work in facilities where rail ties are treated. In years past, the working conditions in some of these facilities were horrendous. For example, the former medical director for Santa Fe testified about visiting one such facility in the 1980s. Upon arriving at the site, he discovered that railroad workers were regularly expected to go into pressurized cylinders where ties were treated with creosote and arsenic in order to clean up chemical residue and effluent that accumulated on floors and walls. These workers were not given respirators or protective clothing and it was common for them to pass out from the fumes. The only protection they were provided came in the form of a rope that was tied around their waist so that if and when they did pass out, they could be dragged out of the room by their coworkers. 

What can I do if I was Exposed to Creosote? 

If you or a loved one was exposed to creosote and have been diagnosed with a creosote-related disease, the attorneys at Hughes Law Offices may be able to help. These are complicated cases that require experienced attorneys. While you and your loved ones focus on recovery, let us do the work needed to prove your case. Contact Hughes Law Offices today at 312-877-5588 for a free attorney consultation. 

Laying of new railway tracks with wooden sleepers laid on groundwork crushed stone. Railway industry and transport infrastructure.

Railroad Creosote Exposure Verdicts & Settlements 

$7,500,000 verdict (Illinois, 2016)

The Plaintiff, age 51, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia after 31 years of employment in the maintenance-of-way department. During that time, he was regularly exposed to creosote as well as other benzene-laden chemicals such as petroleum solvents. The railroad failed to provide him with personal protective equipment throughout his career. As a result, his clothes would regularly become soaked in creosote and solvents, and he was constantly inhaling the vapors that were emitted from these chemicals. (Brown v. Union Pacific)

$950,000 settlement (New Jersey, 2014)

A 38-year-old railroad trackman was diagnosed with stage IV non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after 19 years of employment with New Jersey Transit. During that time, he had been exposed to various carcinogens such as creosote, diesel exhaust, and pesticides. The parties eventually agreed to settle. At that time, the Plaintiff was still employed by the railroad and undergoing chemotherapy. (Cruz v. New Jersey Transit)

Hughes Law Offices is providing railroad asbestos 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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