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Shop Workers

Railroad locomotive shop employees such as machinists, pipefitters, and electricians have historically suffered needless exposures to diesel exhaust, asbestos, secondhand smoke, and welding fumes. Railroad shop workers were also exposed to benzene-containing solvents, degreasers, lubricants, thinners, and fuels. As a result of these exposures, many locomotive machinists are diagnosed with mesothelioma, cancers of the lung, larynx, bladder, and kidney, and blood and bone marrow conditions such as myelodysplastic syndrome, acute myeloid leukemia, and multiple myeloma.

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    Diesel Exhaust and Locomotive Machinists

    Locomotive shops and roundhouses have been full of diesel exhaust since the 1940’s. Not long after moving to diesel power, the railroads realized diesel exhaust was a problem. In fact, a railroad attorney gave a presentation at a 1955 Association of American Railroads meeting in which he summarized a few of the carcinogens in diesel exhaust and noted that some of them “are to be accepted as constituting a threat to human health.”

    Despite this knowledge, railroads have permitted the cold-starting of locomotives inside (which literally fills the shop with black exhaust), allowed locomotives to idle inside shops and roundhouses, failed to adequately ventilate the shops and failed to provide respirators to the exposed workers. These diesel exhaust exposures are known causes of lung, laryngeal, bladder, throat and kidney cancers. Benzene, a known constituent of diesel exhaust, causes leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and multiple myeloma. Diesel exhaust can also cause COPD and emphysema.


    Asbestos and Railroad Shop Workers

    The Association of American Railroads identified asbestos as a toxin in 1935. As of 1958, the railroad industry knew asbestos caused cancer. By the 1960’s, it was medically recognized that asbestos exposures cause mesothelioma.

    And yet:

    • Locomotive manufacturer documents indicate that asbestos-containing parts were installed in newly built locomotives through the mid-1980’s.
    • From the late 1950’s until around 1980, railroads relied upon asbestos-containing brake shoes (often branded COBRA) on locomotives and cars. The handling, removal and installation of these brake linings and shoes caused the release of breathable asbestos fibers into the railroad shops.
    • BNSF began its Locomotive Inventory Asbestos Database in 1996. This database was used to track the removal of asbestos from BNSF’s locomotive fleet. As recently as 2012, BNSF was still discovering asbestos inside its locomotives.
    • At Union Pacific’s Proviso Locomotive Shop in Chicago, industrial hygiene testing conducted in 2013 revealed that the walls and ceilings contained asbestos-containing products, including 16,000 square feet of transite curved panels, 8,000 square feet of transite flat panels and 1,000 linear feet of gray roof flashing. Union Pacific continues to utilize that building which is literally made out of asbestos.
    • As recently as 2015, CSX locomotives that were refurbished outside the United States were discovered to be chock full of newly installed asbestos-containing parts.

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    Suffice it to say, even today, asbestos exposures remain an issue for locomotive shop employees.

    Asbestos was historically found in many parts of locomotives, including the following:

    • Brakes
    • Clutches
    • Gaskets
    • Electrical panels
    • Insulation around cab heater lines, radiator supply lines, steam generators and boilers, governor lines, and air compressor discharge lines.

    Pipefitters, electricians, and machinists once performed hands-on work with asbestos-containing parts, causing the asbestos to break apart, become airborne, and be inhaled. These exposures cause mesothelioma, along with cancers of the lung, throat, colon, and kidney. These exposures also cause pulmonary fibrosis and asbestosis.


    Benzene and Railroad Machinists

    Here are a few of the products used by locomotive machinists, laborers, pipefitters and electricians:

    • Varsol (mineral spirit)
    • Liquid Wrench (penetrating solvent)
    • Safety-Kleen Parts Washer
    • Safety-Kleen Solvent
    • Gasket adhesives and glues
    • CRC Brake and Carb Cleaners
    • Gasoline
    • Cutting fluids
    • Lubricants
    • Paints
    • Paint thinners
    • Solvent baths

    What do all these products have in common? At some point in the not too distant past, they contained benzene. Benzene exposures cause acute myeloid leukemia (AML), myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), multiple myeloma, and non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Benzene can be absorbed through the skin, inhaled or even ingested. Of all the railroad crafts, we see the most blood and bone marrow cancer cases amongst the locomotive shop employees. These benzene exposures are the reason.

    Other Exposures

    The list of toxins that railroad shop employees were exposed to is long and varied. Long-term exposures to secondhand smoke can cause lung and bladder cancer. Exposures to metal dusts and silica can cause COPD, silicosis, and even lung cancer. In every railroad cancer case, it is vitally important that the worker be represented by experienced counsel familiar with these complicated claims. That attorney must work with qualified experts such as industrial hygienists and epidemiologists who can determine what the worker was exposed to and whether those exposures caused the illness at hand.

    If you or a loved one worked inside a railroad locomotive shop, and you’ve been diagnosed with one of the diseases mentioned here, call Hughes Law Offices today and speak with attorney Andrew Hughes.

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    Verdicts and Settlements

    Survey of Railroad Cancer Claims

    Hughes Law Offices is providing 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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    Railroad carman died of pulmonary fibrosis following 18 years of welding.



    Locomotive engineer in his early 60’s developed diesel asthma.



    Railroad mechanic diagnosed with squamous cell oropharyngeal cancer.



    Trainman died of nasopharyngeal cancer as a result of working on-board locomotives filled with diesel exhaust.



    Retired railroad employee died of lung cancer as a result of workplace asbestos exposure.



    61 year old railroad conductor diagnosed with interstitial fibrosis and an increased risk of lung cancer as a result of exposure to diesel exhaust.

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