union pacific railroad workers

The Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) is one of the largest railroads in the country. The company currently operates in 23 states in the western half of the United States and employs over 33,000 employees. Importantly there are tens of thousands of retirees who used to work for the UPRR who are currently at risk for developing cancer as a result of workplace exposure to diesel exhaust, asbestos and other hazardous substances. The sad truth is many of these cancer risks could have been avoided if the UPRR and its predecessors (Missouri Pacific, Southern Pacific, Chicago and North Western and others) had told employees about the cancer risks from hazardous exposures, especially to asbestos and diesel exhaust.

A prior blog highlighted the railroad industry’s awareness of diesel exhaust and cancer risks as far back as the 1950’s when an industry trade group discussed the hazards. Diesel exhaust cancer risks continued to be discussed by railroad representatives in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Similarly, the railroads also discussed asbestos and its ability to cause cancer back in the 1950s. At one meeting in 1958, the Medical Officers from the UPRR were warned that “there is very good proof that asbestos is a cause of carcinoma.” Interestingly, meeting minutes from this same meeting in 1958 show that the Chief Surgeon from Missouri Pacific Railroad (which later merged with Union Pacific) admitted that diesel exhaust “is a hazard.”

So if the Union Pacific Railroad and the other railroads knew of the toxic cancer effects of diesel exhaust and asbestos, why weren’t employees told? The answer is the railroads were worried about their legal liability for hazardous exposures causing cancer and lung injuries so the risks were not shared with employees. As one doctor remarked at the 1958 meeting referenced above: “we are also affected by the medical-legal aspects of this thing which are coming to the fore more and more each day.”

Over the last 25 years, Doran & Murphy has successfully represented a large number of Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) workers who suffer from different types of cancer caused by asbestos, diesel exhaust, silica sand, ballast dust, welding fumes, solvents, and creosote. As part of these cases, we have uncovered lots of evidence that the UPRR and its predecessor railroads knew about the hazards of these workplace substances for many decades and yet failed to warn employees or take adequate action to protect workers.

One of these “smoking gun” documents is a presentation given in 1982 by Dr. Ernest Rouse, Chief Medical Director of the Union Pacific Railroad. The 1982 meeting was sponsored by the American Association of Railroads (AAR), a railroad industry trade group, where Dr. Rouse was invited to speak about the hazards of asbestos. During this presentation, Dr. Rouse identified the problems related to asbestos exposure on the railroad, including the long period of time between asbestos exposure and the resulting cancer. Dr. Rouse recognized that asbestos exposure may take up to forty years, or longer, to cause lung disease or cancer in railroad workers. He also identified lung cancer as “the most important concern” relating to exposure to asbestos on the railroad but also noted the many other diseases caused by exposure including cancer of the “larynx, gastrointestinal tract, kidney, and even leukemia and multiple myeloma.”

Dr. Rouse warned that statistically, “lung cancer causes four to five percent of the deaths in the adult population,” while in asbestos exposed populations, lung cancer “produces twenty to twenty-five percent of all deaths.” He also touched on the concept of “synergy” which means that when it comes to getting lung cancer, individuals who smoke cigarettes andare exposed to asbestos have higher rates of cancer, “as much as ninety times as great.”

In his warning to the UPRR and other railroads, Dr. Rouse also noted the impossibility of defining “safe levels of exposure” to asbestos, the “variable susceptibility of individuals” to asbestos-related disease and “the ability to develop disease with a very short duration of exposure,” sometimes as little as two months.

There is indisputable evidence that the Union Pacific Railroad and other railroads have known for decades about the hazards of asbestos, diesel exhaust, silica sand, ballast dust, welding fumes, solvents, and creosote. These same toxic substances have been linked to many different types of cancer: mesothelioma, lung cancer, throat cancer, esophageal cancer, laryngeal cancer, kidney cancer, stomach cancer, intestinal cancer, head and neck cancer, colon cancer, bladder cancer, leukemia, and lymphoma. The risk of railroad workers getting cancer could have been greatly reduced had the railroad simply done the right thing and warned workers decades ago. Unfortunately, that did not happen!

If you or a loved one has suffered from cancer and would like to discuss compensation from the railroad, call a Union Pacific railroad cancer lawyer at Doran and Murphy at 1-800-374-2144 for a free consultation.