Recently, researchers at Harvard’s Medical School and School of Public Health, together with researchers from The University of California at Berkeley, have reaffirmed that occupational exposure to diesel exhaust causes an increased risk of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD. This review of the research, supported by a grant from the National Institute of Health, reviewed the growing body of medical literature on the link between diesel exhaust and COPD. They concluded that the current research shows that occupational exposure to diesel exhaust is associated with an increasing risk for COPD. They also encourage that more specific research be done in this area of growing concern.

COPD is the underlying cause of death in approximately 1 in 20 deaths and was the fourth leading cause of death worldwide in 2008. The World Health Organization estimates that COPD will be the third leading cause of death by 2030.

While smoking remains a large cause of COPD, occupational exposures like diesel exhaust have been implicated in up to 37% of cases for the general population and up to 53% of cases in non-smokers. Individuals in a variety of occupations, including railroad workers, are exposed to diesel exhaust as a regular part of their work. In a study of railroad workers, even after adjusting for the effects of cigarette smoking, a job with exposure to diesel locomotives resulted in a 2.5% increased risk of dying from COPD for each year of exposure. That means that each year of exposure to locomotive exhaust increases a railroader’s risk of dying from COPD goes up.

The research linking general occupational exposure to dusts and fumes, including diesel exhaust, to the incidence of COPD is getting stronger. The facts are becoming clear – more workers that are exposed to diesel exhaust in their jobs die from COPD. Railroad workers are particularly at risk.

If you are a railroad worker who has been diagnosed with COPD, please contact us for information about your legal rights under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act.