Diesel Exhaust

Railroad workers are at elevated risk for cancer and respiratory conditions. Why is that? Because virtually all of the railroad crafts endure chronic exposure to diesel exhaust. 

Does Diesel Exhaust Cause Cancer? 

Yes. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies diesel exhaust as a Group 1 carcinogen. [1] Moreover, IARC also classifies many of the constituents of diesel exhaust as Group 1 carcinogens. Group 1 carcinogens are toxins that are known to cause cancer. Examples of other group 1 carcinogens include asbestos, benzene, tobacco, and plutonium.

diesel exhaust cancer

What Cancers are Caused by Exposure to Diesel Exhaust? 

Exposure to diesel exhaust is known to cause lung cancer and it has been strongly associated with numerous others. Exposure to diesel exhaust can also cause a variety of respiratory conditions such as diesel asthma. If you or a loved one has been exposed to diesel exhaust and have been diagnosed with one of the following you may be eligible for compensation. 

Which Railroad Workers are Exposed to Diesel Exhaust? 

No matter the craft, railroad employees are exposed to diesel exhaust. Traditionally, locomotive machinists, electricians and pipefitters working in improperly ventilated shops where locomotives were cold started and left idling suffered some of the worst exposures. Railroad car department employees who work in car shops with diesel powered equipment and along trains during inspections aren’t too far behind. Obviously the locomotive crews – engineers, brakemen, firemen, and conductors – breathe diesel exhaust that comes in through the windows, doors, electrical panels and floors. How many of you regularly used duct tape in a hopeless attempt to keep the diesel fumes out of the locomotive cabs? Track department employees work alongside and operate diesel-powered equipment. Even the gate-checkers and clerical workers suffer regular diesel exposures when they’re working in the yard.

When did the Railroads Know that Diesel Exhaust is Hazardous? 

Official records maintained by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) have revealed that the railroads were aware that diesel exhaust was dangerous to employees since at least 1955. Despite being aware of the danger, the railroads did not take any actions to mitigate the risk, or even warn employees, for decades. In fact, the railroads publicly claimed that diesel exhaust was not harmful even after AAR testing in the late 80s and early 90s confirmed the presence of benzene and other known carcinogens in diesel exhaust. 

What can I do if I was Exposed to Diesel Exhaust? 

If you or a loved one was exposed to diesel exhaust and have been diagnosed with a 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.

Diesel Exhaust Verdicts & Settlements 

Confidential settlement (California 2022)

Hughes Law Offices represented a locomotive engineer who worked for Union Pacific Railroad (UP) for over 36 years.  Within two years of his retirement, and despite having never smoked cigarettes, our client was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. He was 62 years old at the time of this diagnosis. Our client was exposed to diesel exhaust via poorly sealed locomotives and via outdated practices like running locomotives long-hood forward, under-powering trains, and requiring crews to deadhead in trailing units. Furthermore, our client reported near daily exposures to secondhand smoke, especially early in his career. These exposures were worsened by the railroad’s failure to enact a smoking ban and even after a smoking policy was developed, the railroad did not enforce it.  Our client also described exposures to asbestos and silica. All told, he had regular exposures to four known lung carcinogens.  

Confidential settlement (Illinois, 2020) 

Hughes Law Offices represented a locomotive conductor who worked for Union Pacific Railroad (UP) and its predecessor Chicago and North Western Transportation Company (CNW). Our client worked for CNW and UP from 1973 to 2015. A couple years after retiring, he was diagnosed with colon cancer. We filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Cook County alleging that long-term exposures to diesel exhaust, asbestos, and secondhand tobacco smoke caused the colon cancer. During discovery, UP turned over a bid that it received for $678,000 to remove 24,000 square feet of asbestos-containing wall and ceiling panels from the Proviso Yard Diesel Ramp in Illinois, where our client reported for work. That bid was received in 2013. Our client was a non-smoker with no risk factors for colon cancer. Unfortunately, after he provided his trial testimony, our client passed away as a result of the cancer.

$4,255,000 verdict (Tennessee, 2014)

The Decedent worked as a mechanic in Illinois Central’s Trigg Avenue and Johnston Yard maintenance shops in Tennessee from 1974 to 2007. He died of squamous cell oropharyngeal (throat) cancer in 2008. The Decedent’s wife brought suit against Illinois Central alleging that the Decedent’s exposure to diesel exhaust, asbestos, and secondhand smoke while working for Illinois Central was the cause of his cancer. The Jury award was reduced to offset the bills paid by the Decedent’s health insurance plan resulting in a net award of $3,335,685. (Russell v. Illinois Central Railroad Company). 

$3,700,000 verdict (Wyoming, 2010)

A former railroad engineer developed pulmonary fibrosis, a fatal lung disease, after a 29-year career working for BNSF. During his employment, he was exposed to diesel exhaust while riding in locomotives, silica dust from the railroad ballast, dust from the locomotive and sand hoppers, and asbestos from locomotive brake shoes and other sources. A lung biopsy revealed that particulates from diesel exhaust, silica dust, and asbestos were all present in his lung tissue. Evidence was presented showing that the railroad did not remove asbestos from its diesel locomotives until the late 1990’s, despite the fact that the railroad was aware of the dangers of asbestos and silica dust as early as the 1930’s. (Jolley v. BNSF)

$2,600,000 verdict (Michigan, 2009)

The plaintiff, a locomotive engineer in his early 60s, developed diesel asthma as a result of exposure to diesel exhaust while riding in locomotives. His condition was permanent and was expected to reduce his life expectancy. (Battaglia v. Conrail). 

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.


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