Toxic Hazards for Railroad Workers

Exposure from the Transportation of Hazardous Materials

The railroad is a major transporter of bulk chemicals and industrial raw materials. As such, the railroad is responsible for the movement of a variety of cargo classified as hazardous materials (HAZMAT).

Some of the classes of HAZMAT transported by railroad include:

  • Explosives
  • Acids and corrosives
  • Toxic inhalation hazards
  • Petrochemicals such as liquefied petroleum gas
  • Heavy metals associated with the use and disposal of coal

Railroad Accident Attorneys

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Examples of substances transported by rail that have a HAZMAT classification are listed below. These chemicals can comprise the cargo being transported or they can be a component of that cargo.

  • Pentachlorophenol (PCPs)
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)
  • Sodium Borate & Sodium Nitrate
  • Ethyl Benzene
  • Xylene
  • Vinyl Chloride
  • Trichloroethane
  • Trichloroethene
  • Methylene Chloride
  • Asbestos
  • Arsenic
  • Lead
  • Chrysene
  • Naphthalene
  • Dichlorobenzene
  • Benzene
  • Toluene
  • Creosote

The Department of Transportation reports that there are 240,000+ tank cars in the North American railroad car fleet, which represents more than 18% of the fleet. Rail shipment of hazardous materials accounts for 18% of all hazardous materials shipped. This means that about 1.7 million rail cars of hazardous materials are transported in the United States annually. Included are gases and liquids classified as "toxic inhalation hazards."

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) reports that in 2000, 725 of the reported railroad accidents involved trains transporting hazardous materials. Out of 6,942 cars in those trains that contained hazardous materials, 979 of the cars were damaged and 75 cars released toxic materials. This resulted in 5,251 people being evacuated. 1 fatality (a result of the accident), 82 injuries, and over $26 million in property damage were reported. Therefore, even with the great safety improvements made to tank cars in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, hazardous materials are still released during accidents. These dangerous substances are also released in non-accident incidents. The U.S. Department of Transportation Research and Special Programs Administration’s (RSPA) database showed 711 serious incidents involving rail shipment of HAZMAT in 2000.

These statistics are especially troubling for railroad workers suffering from injuries and diseases related to hazardous materials. Workers can be exposed during the loading and unloading of rail cars and during transport as well. Spillage and leakage of these materials from rail cars can cause exposure from direct contact and from indirect contact when these toxic materials collect on the ground or saturate the air in the workplace. Whether you have been injured from falling equipment or you have developed a disease from many years of toxic exposure, there can be no argument about the wrongs that have been done to you. Rather than writing off these ailments as misfortunes, consider them wrongful accidents to which you can take legal action. To learn more about your options, contact our law firm as soon as you can.

Exposed to Toxic Materials in a Rail Yard?

Current regulations mean each train engine will probably be out of service every three months for inspection. When this happens, operators usually take the opportunity to do maintenance. They typically employ many of the available rail yard facilities to perform upkeep on this equipment. These procedures can contribute to serious pollution in rail yards. This becomes more significant when you understand that many rail yards have been in service long before many federal and state regulations. They have also been through many different owners. Because of this history, workers are faced with a workplace that for decades has been a dumping ground for all types of hazardous materials.

The list of hazardous materials from maintenance operations can include:

  • Asbestos
  • Diesel fuel
  • Paint thinners
  • Brake and hydraulic fluid
  • Locomotive coolant
  • Lead and other heavy metals
  • Industrial grade solvents
  • Effluents / heavy metals from lead, cadmium and nickel batteries
  • Residual cargo materials that have been improperly handled

Common Illnesses Associated with Toxic Exposure

Railroad employees continue to be diagnosed with brain damage attributed to exposure. Diagnosis has been and continues to be difficult in such brain damage cases. Furthermore, an illness named chronic toxic encephalopathy is being attributed to exposure to solvents in the railroad workplace. This debilitating condition presents itself with short-term memory loss, depression, anxiety and diminished mental functioning.

Other illnesses and diseases that have a direct connection to toxic exposure in the railroad workplace:

  • Lung Cancer: Exposure to asbestos, silica dust, and chemical solvents have been linked to lung cancer.
  • Asbestosis: Railroad workers have historically been at high risk for developing asbestosis due to chronic exposure to asbestos.
  • Mesothelioma: Asbestos can also be linked to the cancer known as mesothelioma in railroad workers. This cancer has been extremely difficult to diagnose since it can take up to 40 years to appear.
  • Leukemia: Exposure to benzene has been described as a toxic inhalant hazard (TIH) by the federal government. Ongoing studies reinforce its classification as a carcinogen.

Benzene Exposure

Benzene is an organic chemical compound. Colorless and extremely flammable, it emits a sweet smell and is high in octane. Benzene makes up a small percentage of gasoline. Shortly after its discovery in the late 19th century, it was used as an aftershave lotion. Before its toxicity became apparent, benzene was advertised as an effective way to decaffeinate coffee.

In the early 1900s, it was used as an industrial solvent to degrease metals. Gradually, the chemical's poisonous quality became obvious, and in the 1970s it became linked with leukemia. Eventually, benzene became an official hazardous air pollutant according to the federal government.

When exposed, victims may experience:

  • Headaches
  • Lightheadedness
  • Drowsiness
  • Unconsciousness

Eyes and skin become easily irritated and breathing may become difficult or strained. Prolonged exposure, even if the exposure is subtle, may lead to a decreased immune system, anemia, or leukemia. These illnesses are can be devastating or lethal. Under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA), railroad workers have the right stand up for poor working conditions and injury sustained on the job. Have you developed an illness or sustained an injury because of benzene exposure? Don't back down! Let a FELA attorney protect your rights.

Diesel Fuel Exposure & Toxic Inhalation

Many locomotives are actually powered by a diesel fuel and electric combination, thanks to Dr. Rudolf Diesel's compression engine he invented in 1892. There are many reasons why these types of locomotives are valued over those powered by steam. The first benefit is that it is actually cheaper to run a diesel train. One of the main reasons for this is that the parts needed to manufacture a steam engine train were more expensive, while diesel fuel train parts could be mass produced. Another advantage to the diesel engine is that it really only needs one person for operations, although current safety standards typically call for a second worker as a precautionary measure. It is a common practice for these locomotives to site idling for long periods of time, causing those working at stations to be exposed to the fumes.

Were You Exposed to Clag?

"Clag" is a term for diesel exhaust emitted from locomotives.

These particles (diesel particulate matter DPM) include many different chemicals that are released into the surrounding environment. Not only can this have a damaging effect on the atmosphere, but those who are exposed to diesel fumes in the work environment, especially over prolonged periods of time, are particularly at risk for developing certain occupational diseases. This "clag" is extremely small in size, making inhalation easy and also making penetration more severe. The small size allows the particles to reach even deep into the lungs. If you work in a railroad work environment, then you may want to consider the possibility that you are being harmfully exposed to these toxins.

Respiratory Diseases, Nerve Damage & Other Side Effects

One of the major side effects of diesel fuel inhalation is respiratory/pulmonary disease. Inhaling a substance puts your lungs at risk. Lung cancer is one of the leading results of long-term exposure. Various cardiovascular diseases may also be common in those who were exposed to great amounts of these particulates.

Cardiovascular disease involves the infection of the heart or blood vessels that lead to the heart. Heart disease can put a person at an increased risk for stroke, heart attack and death. Aside from chronic symptoms such as this, acute side effects may include minor dizziness, headaches, nausea, and difficulty breathing. Particulate matter as a whole results in an estimated 20,000 to 50,000 deaths in the United States each year.

The American National Cancer Center conducted an investigation of a shoe factory in which 250 workers were exposed to fuel exhaust for 16 months. A nearby textile factory, which was also being observed, did not expose its workers to diesel fumes. The result? Reports indicated that 141 of the 250 people inhaled extremely high percentages of the fumes, which resulted in a 24% decrease in white blood cells, which fight off the diseases the body is exposed to. A decrease in white blood cells will have a direct effect on the health of an individual.

Because gas fumes can damage the fatty tissues that protect the nerves, they can cause serious brain damage. The degree to which a person is affected can also correlate with their body mass, so each individual will be affected differently. There are many measures that can be taken to decrease diesel fuel emissions. Those can include preventing the trains from idling for long periods of time and providing employees with protective equipment. Those who develop occupational diseases such as those listed above may be entitled to a claim.

Lead Poisoning

Lead is listed as a hazardous material by the DOT and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Lead has the physical properties of a soft metal. This material is often used in construction and in manufacturing. Depending on the level of exposure, lead can be considered a poisonous substance to humans. The side effects can range from mild to serious, depending on the length and quantity of exposure. Certain industrials are more at-risk than others. The railroad industry is named as one of the industries that are most at risk for dangerous lead exposure. Lead is a heavily used substance on railroads, and workers may potentially contract various illnesses in connection with the lead.

Symptoms of Lead Poisoning

Safe lead levels are measured by micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that the maximum safe lead level is a ratio of 10 to 1. If you believe you are exposed to lead at the workplace, you should see a doctor for an evaluation. Lead poisoning primarily causes damage to the nervous system which can manifest as insomnia, hallucinations, and tremors. Most people who are exposed to lead will have headaches, reproductive problems, pain in the abdomen, and tingling limbs. The symptoms of acute poisoning are typically intestinal discomfort (i.e. constipation, weight loss, diarrhea) and some urinary problems. Those who were exposed to lead over longer periods of time will have a wider array of symptoms that can be anything from depression to behavior disorders.

Warning & Prevention

Workers who are exposed to lead should also be adequately prepared by their employers so that they do not suffer illness. Since a person can be exposed to lead through inhalation, ingestion, or through the skin, all three avenues must be protected. Workers are typically required by the Federal Railroad Administration to wear protective materials so that they are not exposed to lead and other toxic materials at an unsafe level.

Liquefied Petroleum Gas

The Hazardous Materials Transportation Act has deemed that liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), commonly called propane, is a toxic substance that can pose a great threat to railroad workers. LPG is often transported by railway, which makes it dangerous for railroad workers—not only because of the threat of explosion, but also the possibility of inhalation. It is highly flammable and is used as a fuel to heat and power appliances.

Those who have been exposed to propane for long periods of time are at greater risk for illness. Railroad employers are required to supply their employees with all necessary safety measures such as safety and protective equipment. This can include face masks, gloves, and goggles. If you became ill or were injured while working and you believe it was because of your exposure to LPG then get in touch with a skilled lawyer.

If you have been exposed to hazardous materials while working for a railroad, contact a top-rated lawyer at Arnold & Itkin. Call (888) 493-1629 today for your free, no-obligation case review.

Common Questions

  • Who Is at Fault for My Toxic Exposure?

    Multiple parties can be responsible for railroad toxic exposure. First, employers are responsible to make sure their workers have a safe environment to do their job in. This means protecting them from toxic hazards. Second, companies that produce chemicals that are toxic can be liable for making a dangerous product and failing to warn others about it.
  • Is There a Time Limit for Toxic Exposure Claims?

    Yes. If you suspect that you’ve been exposed to toxic substances while working or are suffering from illness that might have been caused by one, contact Arnold & Itkin as soon as possible. The sooner you contact our firm, the more time your case will have.
  • Are Railroad Workers Protected by the Law?

    Yes. The Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) is a law that was created over 100 years ago to protect workers and provide compensation for them if they’ve sustained injuries. Our FELA attorneys are ready to hear your case and help you decide if your situation is covered by the law.
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