Railroad Mesothelioma Lawyer
Studies have shown that railroad workers suffer considerably higher rates of mesothelioma than the general population. This is because railroad workers were exposed to significant amounts of asbestos as part of their daily job duties. For decades, asbestos was used extensively by the railroad industry because of its heat-resistant and durable qualities.
Unfortunately for the workers who worked around asbestos throughout their careers, medical science has shown that asbestos exposure causes an aggressive form of cancer known as mesothelioma. Even more troubling, railroad companies such as Conrail, BNSF, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific, CSX, and their predecessors knew about the dangerous health effects associated with asbestos as far back as the 1930s, yet continued to use it in nearly every facet of railroad operations without warning or protecting their employees.
Although asbestos use has been significantly reduced over the past few decades, many current and former railroad workers continue to be diagnosed with mesothelioma every year. This is because mesothelioma takes a long time to manifest after initial exposure to asbestos. As such, railroad workers who were employed in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, are still at risk of developing mesothelioma long after they leave the railroad. If you developed this condition, please call a skilled railroad injury attorney as soon as possible.
What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is an extremely aggressive form of cancer that affects the cells that make up the mesothelium. The mesothelium is a protective lining for internal organs which consists of the pleural, peritoneal, and pericardial lining. Patients who are diagnosed with mesothelioma often have a poor prognosis, with pleural mesothelioma patients having a median survival of only about 12-14 months with current therapies.
What Causes Mesothelioma?
Asbestos exposure is the primary risk factor for mesothelioma. It accounts for nearly all diagnoses and is the only known cause of pleural mesothelioma. Production of asbestos in the United States peaked during the 1930s – 1970s, but its presence and use in many industries, including the railroad industry, continued until the 1990s. The most common form of asbestos exposure is occupational, in which a person is exposed in the course of their job duties, but there are several ways an individual can be exposed to asbestos. In some cases, even living with someone who was exposed to asbestos at work may increase an individual’s risk of developing mesothelioma because asbestos particles can be transported on skin and clothing. Secondary exposure to asbestos is just as dangerous as primary exposure and has even led to family members of workers exposed to asbestos being diagnosed with mesothelioma.
How Does Exposure to Asbestos Cause Mesothelioma?
When asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested, they become lodged in mesothelial tissues. This causes scarring, inflammation, and cell damage that can develop into malignant mesothelioma tumors. It takes an average of 20 to 50 years for asbestos fibers to turn normal mesothelial cells into cancerous mesothelioma cells. This is called a latency period and since many railroad workers are diagnosed long after they retire or leave the railroad, railroad workers and their families may not be aware that their illness is associated with their work.
There is a dose-response relationship between asbestos and the development of mesothelioma, which means your risk of getting this cancer increases with every exposure. However, nearly every governmental agency agrees that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Asbestos exposures as short in duration as a few days have caused mesothelioma in humans. This means every occupational exposure to asbestos puts workers at risk of getting this disease.
How Were Railroad Workers Exposed to Asbestos?
Asbestos was used heavily by the railroad industry from the 1930s through the 1980s. Even after railroad companies stopped purchasing and using asbestos products in new applications, workers continued to be exposed to the already existing asbestos in railroad facilities and equipment well into the 1990s.
Asbestos was used in many locomotive components such as brake pads, brake linings, clutches, valves, and gaskets. These parts and materials would deteriorate over time, releasing airborne asbestos fibers that would be inhaled by workers. This is known as “friable” asbestos. Asbestos-containing locomotive components often had to be removed and replaced by shop workers, which required a lot of hands-on manipulation. This released a significant amount of asbestos dust into the air that was easily inhaled by shop workers, including locomotive mechanics, machinists, pipefitters, electricians, laborers, and others working nearby. Additionally, asbestos was also commonly used to insulate or “wrap” exposed pipes inside locomotive cabs and in toilet areas.
Conductors, brakemen, engineers, and firemen would often rest their feet on these pipes or otherwise come into contact with them, releasing asbestos fibers into the air. Even after these cancer-causing fibers settled, they would be re-released into the air when workers would sweep out their work areas. Conductors, brakemen, and firemen could also be exposed to asbestos insulation used on cabooses back in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, especially from asbestos heat shields that were placed behind stoves.
Other Asbestos Products
Asbestos rope was used for track maintenance when rails would “pull apart” from cold weather. Maintenance of Way (MOW) and/or track workers would cut sections of asbestos rope using a knife which would release respirable fibers. Next, the asbestos rope was soaked with kerosene or diesel fuel, ignited, and placed on the rail to heat and expand it. This resulted in a toxic smoke that workers would breathe in without any respiratory protection.
Welders in railroad repair shops were often provided with asbestos-containing gloves, coats, welding blankets, and spats. These items would burn and deteriorate over time, exposing these workers to airborne fibers. Carmen would often use asbestos sheeting as a heat shield behind welds, which would be cut by hand from larger asbestos sheets, releasing fiber into the air.
Many electrical components found on the railroad such as arc chutes, switchgear, wire insulation, transit boards, circuit boards, and panels contained asbestos. These components would often have a dusty buildup that workers would clean off by sanding, scraping, and blowing which would release respirable fibers. Exposure could also occur when cutting, manipulating, or drilling phenolic resin such as Bakelite to fit specific applications or drilling holes to install panels, breaker boxes, or switchgear. Blowing out dust before work or after work was undertaken caused the fibers to become airborne and easily inhaled or ingested. These activities put workers at a high risk of exposure and cancer.
Asbestos in Buildings and Bridges
Asbestos was also present in various railroad buildings. These facilities contained a variety of asbestos-containing building materials, including roof shingles, floor tile, ceiling tile, tile cement, millboard, hardboard, wall panels, drywall, and joint compound. Asbestos was also used to insulate pipes throughout railroad buildings, including in locker rooms. As these materials break down and deteriorate over time, they release fibers into the air, exposing any workers that would enter the building. Consequently, even a railroad employee working in an office could have been exposed to dangerous amounts of asbestos.
Workers in the Bridges and Buildings (B&B) department were often tasked with the maintenance, repair, and demolition of railroad buildings that contained large quantities of asbestos. Specific examples include working with asbestos-containing roofing materials, drywall or joint compound, and installation or removal of the ceiling and/or floor tile. The activities would release friable asbestos into the air which the workers would breathe. Asbestos fibers could also lodge in workers’ clothing, exposing them and their families even after their shift ended.
When Did the Railroad Industry Know About the Dangers of Asbestos?
The Association of American Railroads (AAR) is a railroad industry trade group that holds annual meetings and shares information regarding various railroad issues, including the health and safety of railroad employees. Most major railroads are members of the AAR. As early as 1935, railroad medical personnel presented at AAR meetings about the dangers of asbestos, and as early as the 1950s the railroads were aware that asbestos exposure caused cancer.
Unfortunately, this information was never shared with the railroad workers being regularly exposed and most railroads continued to purchase and use asbestos extensively into the 1980s. Even after the railroads stopped purchasing asbestos, railroad equipment, locomotives, and facilities contained asbestos well into the 2000s.
Why Didn’t Railroads Protect Their Workers?
Although most major railroads were aware of the dangers of asbestos since the 1930s, they failed to warn or protect their workers until many decades later. It wasn’t until after workers began developing asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma that any action was taken. Documents obtained from certain railroads through litigation indicate that information regarding the hazards of asbestos was purposefully concealed from railroad workers for fear that it would encourage sick employees to file claims for their asbestos-related illnesses.
For example, a document from 1937 shows that the railroad industry openly discussed various recommendations to protect workers from asbestos exposure, but stated that “It must be understood, however, that these recommendations are not to be posted or given out but are for the information of the supervision exclusively.” The document goes on to state that “[i]t is suggested that the above recommendations be communicated directly to the foremen involved. Publicity on the above might suggest the making of claims.”
The decision not to warn or protect workers from asbestos, despite the railroads’ knowledge concerning the risk of cancer, is evidence of negligence under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA), making railroads liable if a worker develops an asbestos-related disease such as mesothelioma.
What Are My Options if I Have Been Diagnosed with Mesothelioma?
Although there is no known cure for mesothelioma, promising new treatment options are available which have offered new hope for patients with mesothelioma. In addition, under the Federal Employers Liability Act, railroad workers that were exposed to asbestos during their career and subsequently develop mesothelioma may be entitled to significant compensation, even decades after they leave the railroad.
Speak with a Railroad Mesothelioma Attorney
The attorneys at Doran & Murphy have helped countless railroad workers and their families obtain millions of dollars for asbestos-related diseases all over the country, including brakemen, engineers, switchmen, conductors, car inspectors, carmen, signal maintainers, signalmen, machinists, locomotive mechanics, electricians, sheet-metal workers, bridge and building workers, pipefitters, clerks, carpenters, track laborers, trackmen, machine operators, and other crafts.
If you were diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease such as mesothelioma, call us today to discuss your legal rights.