Many railroad workers with a variety of different jobs are exposed regularly to dangerous and toxic substances that increase their risk of developing cancer. This includes brakemen, conductors, pipefitters, trackmen, yardmasters and more.
Among the dangerous substances to which railroad workers can be exposed are:
- Silica dust
- Cleaning fluid solvents
- Creosote (from coating on railroad ties)
- Herbicides (used to kill weeds around train tracks)
- Lead paint
- Diesel locomotive exhaust
- Welding fumes
The last of these, which can cause a rare but aggressive cancer that usually affects the lungs, can still be found in train brake shoe linings, electrical panels and pipe insulation.
“It’s all about the dose.”
The chances of developing cancer from exposure to one or more of these substances depends on how much someone is exposed to and for how long. As one doctor who works with cancer patients says, “It’s all about the dose. Someone may have a really significant exposure over a short period of time or a moderate exposure over a long period of time….”
Not all of the cancers most commonly caused by railroad work affect the lungs, like mesothelioma usually does. Blood cancers like leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma have been linked to railroad work. So have bladder, kidney, colon and throat cancers.
There are things railroad workers can do to protect themselves
Certainly, all railroad workers should be provided with the protective equipment and training they need to minimize exposure to dangerous substances and fumes. If you don’t believe you’re being provided with what you need to stay safe, you have the right to advocate for your and others’ safety.
Current and former railroad workers can help improve the chances of early detection by getting regular checkups that include respiratory and blood tests. Make sure your doctor knows that you are or were involved in railroad work.
Proving that a disease like cancer was caused by your work can be more challenging than if you suffered an injury on the job. Nonetheless, you have the right to seek compensation for an illness caused by your occupation. Learning more about the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) and seeking experienced legal guidance can help improve your chances of filing a successful claim.