Formaldehyde is a chemical found in low levels in certain building and household products. Importantly for railroad workers operating diesel locomotives, formaldehyde is also a component of diesel exhaust. Click here for a list of the components of diesel exhaust. Formaldehyde has been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a carcinogen (cancer causing substance) and by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a probable human carcinogen. Most recently, on June 10, 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services changed the classification of Formaldehyde from “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” to a “known human carcinogen”. These agencies have drawn these conclusions on the basis of reviewing many medical studies that have been published which have examined the relationship between formaldehyde and different types of cancer. The cancers most closely associated with formaldehyde exposure are leukemia and nasopharyngeal cancer.

One national railroad recently acknowledged that formaldehyde is a carcinogen of the nasal passages. However, for whatever reason, other railroads have not followed suit. As a result, many railroad workers are not aware of the association between formaldehyde and cancer. The failure of certain railroads to warn is a violation of the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA), 45 USC Section 51, which makes railroads responsible for injuries to employees as a result of any failure to provide a reasonably safe place to work. One of the obligations imposed by the FELA is a duty to warn employees about any unsafe conditions they may encounter in the course of their employment.

Our office has investigated nasopharyngeal cancer cases on behalf of railroad workers under FELA. We have also represented railroad workers for nasopharyngeal cancer, as well as other cancers, who had excessive diesel fume exposure from railroad locomotives or diesel powered railroad track equipment.

For more information on Formaldehyde, visit the National Cancer Institute.