Myelodysplastic Syndromes and Railroad Workers
Previous posts have discussed the different diseases, including lung and other forms of cancer, which can result from prolonged occupational exposure to harmful substances such as diesel exhaust, asbestos, silica sand, welding fumes, solvents, and other chemicals. Chemicals occurring in rubber and petroleum-based products, such as diesel fuel, can also cause Myelodysplastic Syndromes that may develop into Acute Myeloid Leukemia.
Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS) occur when cells in bone marrow that create blood become abnormal, resulting in a low count of one or more types of blood cells (red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets). Red blood cells transport oxygen and carbon dioxide throughout the body, and a low red blood cell count is called anemia. Symptoms of anemia include fatigue, dizziness, weakness, shortness of breath, and pale skin. White blood cells help protect against infection, and platelets are necessary for blood to clot and prevent excessive or abnormal bleeding. MDS is a form of cancer, and progresses to Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) in every one in three patients. AML in railroad workers was discussed in a previous blog. Abnormalities in blood forming cells result from gene mutations, which are inherited or acquired throughout a lifetime from exposure to substances such as tobacco smoke, radiation, and benzene or other chemicals.
Railroaders, particularly engineers, conductors, electricians, machinists, carmen, laborers, and other railroad crafts, have likely been exposed to significant levels of benzene on a daily basis as a result of their work. Benzene is a component of diesel fuel, and pollutes the air after combustion as particulate matter and gas in diesel exhaust. Benzene was also an active ingredient in solvents and degreasers used by railroads to clean locomotive parts. The American Cancer Society, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and the World Health Organization have labeled benzene a class one carcinogen, meaning that it can cause cancer in humans. Older or unmaintained diesel powered engines and machines produce larger amounts of exhaust. This is particularly dangerous when working in close proximity to the engines or motors, or in enclosed or poorly ventilated areas such as railroad tunnels and diesel locomotive repair shops. If you are a railroad worker who has been diagnosed with MDS, AML, or another disease due to occupational exposures and would like to consult a railroad cancer attorney, please contact us today.