Protecting Whistleblowers & The Injured

Do railroad workers have a higher risk of developing cancer?

On Behalf of | May 16, 2024 | Railroad Injuries

Working in a railyard is a physically demanding job, and most workers are aware of the high risk of injury they face.

What railway workers may not realize is that even if they never have an accident on the job, their health may still suffer. They may be experiencing damage internally due to the large number of cancer-causing substances they are exposed to on a daily basis.

Exposure to carcinogens

Besides diesel exhaust, which contains multiple carcinogens, railyard workers also encounter the following other cancer-causing substances:

  • Smoke and soot from burning coal, oil, wood or garbage contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
  • Railroad ties treated with preservatives containing heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium and nickel
  • Older railcars, buildings or insulation materials that contain asbestos
  • Solvents used for cleaning, degreasing and maintenance purposes with chemicals such as trichloroethylene or perchloroethylene
  • Sand and other materials used for traction or ballast that release particles of crystalline silica dust when disturbed

Working outdoors all day also exposes workers to ultraviolet light, which causes skin cancer.

Types of cancer linked to railroad work

Studies have shown that railroad workers may have an elevated risk of developing cancer. Korean workers have a higher risk of cancer of the liver, intrahepatic bile ducts, digestive organs, trachea, bronchus, lung and bladder. European railway workers are at risk of laryngeal cancer. Researchers also have found that railroad workers in the United States have increased risks of lung cancer. Some also suspect a higher risk of rhabdomyosarcoma exists.

Employers should take the risk of cancer seriously and protect workers. For example, they can minimize exposure to diesel exhaust by using cleaner fuels, improving ventilation in locomotive cabs and providing workers with personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves.

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