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VICTIMS OF DIESEL EXPOSURES

Railroad Car Department

Railroad Mechanical/Car Department workers suffer some of the most toxic exposures of all railroad employees.  These exposures include welding fumes, solvents, asbestos, torch cutting fumes, diesel exhaust and silica.  Car department exposures can lead to cancers of the lung, bladder, kidney, throat and stomach.  Carmen are also at elevated risk for blood and bone marrow cancers like Acute Myeloid Leukemia, Myelodysplastic Syndrome and non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Welding Fumes in the Car Department

Our mechanical department clients typically start with welding fumes when describing their most consistent, everyday exposure.  At any given time, someone was welding in the shop.  Car shop ventilation systems were either non-existent or poorly maintained, allowing the welding fumes to linger in the air.  Welders suffered high exposures to lead and cadmium, known causes of cancer.  Today, most railroads require respirators when carmen are welding on stainless steel, galvanized metals, aluminum and carbon steel.  But 20-30 years ago, respirators were not always available and thus mechanical department welders suffered toxic exposures to carcinogens while welding.

railroad carman cancer

Diesel Exhaust in the Car Shop

Historically, there were numerous sources of diesel exhaust inside a car shop, including forklifts, car movers, track mobiles, and Pettibone cranes. Even some of the torpedo heaters used in the winter were powered by diesel fuel. Diesel equipment of one kind or another was typically left running inside the car shops. Locomotives were often idling near the car shop, which would cause further diesel exhaust exposures for the carmen inside. Car department employees performing inbound and outbound inspections in the yard suffered diesel exposures from the passing locomotives.

In terms of soot that coated the carmen inside, diesel exhaust and welding fumes were two leading culprits. One of our car department clients kept a washer and dryer in his garage at home. When he got home from work, his wife made him change in the garage. She couldn’t take the stink of diesel exhaust on him. That same man, who passed away from lung cancer in his early 60’s, said that he blew black snot out of his nose after each shift. Most of the carcinogens in diesel exhaust are found in the particulates (the soot) that he tried to clear from his nose each evening.

Diesel exhaust is a known cause of lung, laryngeal, bladder, urothelial and kidney cancers.

Asbestos in the Car Department

Some of the worst asbestos exposures for carmen were from the composite COBRA brake pads used by railroads in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Clients have described grinding these asbestos brakes to fit them in place and using a torch to remove remnants of the prior, worn out brake pad. Welders would sometimes cut sheets of asbestos sheeting to use as insulation behind welds and cutting jobs. Steam pipes in the shops and locker rooms were often wrapped in asbestos insulation.  Shop ceilings and walls often contained asbestos that broke down over time. Flooring inside cabooses frequently contained asbestos.  Heat shields around caboose stoves contained asbestos. Railroads shipped asbestos-containing products and carmen would be charged with sweeping the asbestos dust out of those cars. These asbestos exposures cause mesothelioma, lung cancer and cancers of the larynx, kidney, stomach and colon and rectum.

railroad carman cancer

Solvents, Parts Cleaners and Thinners

Railroad carmen often relied upon parts cleaners, including Safety-Kleen, to clean railroad car parts. One of our clients described using lacquer thinner regularly to clean friction bearings. He said that the lacquer thinner worked better than the mineral spirits that were also around the shop. Barrels of mineral spirits were in many shops through the 1990’s. These solvents and degreasers, especially in the 1970’s, contained high levels of benzene, a known cause of Acute Myeloid Leukemia, Multiple Myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Other Exposures

Carmen performed abrasive blasting, painting, lubricating, grinding and cutting on all kinds of surfaces and metals. They washed or swept soda ash, asbestos, and fertilizer from rail cars. They uncoupled air hoses which frequently caused a blast of silica sand to blow in their faces. They worked in yards that were just sprayed down with herbicide. Those same yards often had piles of silica sand in them which blew all around the yard and into the shops. The shops were not properly ventilated and the carmen were not properly informed about the dangers of their exposures. The railroads failed to provide car department employees with appropriate personal protective equipment, including respirators.

The fact is, because the railroads failed to provide them with a safe workplace, many railroad carmen do not get to enjoy long retirements. Carmen exposures are very complex and require attorneys and experts who are familiar with those exposures and the resulting diseases. Diesel Injury Law works with top industrial hygiene, epidemiology and medical experts to prove up these sophisticated claims. If you or a loved one was sickened by railroad exposures, call 312-877-5588 and speak directly with a FELA cancer attorney today.



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