In many ways, railroads built the United States in many ways. Even today, railroad companies still employ more than one million people. But working in the railroad industry comes with risks. One of the most common has been asbestos exposure. Asbestos was heavily used in the manufacturing of train and railroad components from the 1930s until the 1970s.
Even though OSHA limited asbestos use for construction materials in the 1970s, (OSHA.gov) railroads kept on using it. In some cases, the railroads were aware of the risks to employees but did nothing. Exposure to asbestos continues to be a risk today where companies use components that were built before 1980.
Exposure to tiny asbestos fibers in the air can lead to mesothelioma, a deadly cancer of the organ linings. The cancer typically develops around the lungs, but also can involve the heart, stomach and intestines. It is a brutal, painful cancer and the prognosis is usually terminal. It is a very hard to treat cancer. (Cancer.org).
Unfortunately, many railroad companies put profits over people for decades, and continued to use asbestos in railroad components. These negligent actions have led to the deaths of thousands of railroad workers over the years, and more will probably die in the future.
Where Asbestos Was Used in Railroads
Railroad workers were often exposed to asbestos in various products, such as:
- Insulation: Asbestos was used for a long time to insulate many materials that were used on steam and diesel engines, including boilers, outside of the engine, under the body of the train, on the top of cabooses, coverings for pipes, electrical panels and boilers. Asbestos insulation also was used in railroad shops and roadhouses, thus exposing many workers to a high risk of mesothelioma and asbestosis.
- Railroad equipment: Asbestos was commonly used in plaster, wallboards, cement ties, sealing cement and gaskets.
- Locomotive parts: Asbestos was put in brake pads, brake linings, clutches, ceiling, and in floor tiles of passenger cars.
Railroad Occupation Exposure
Asbestos was used so much on trains, even railroad workers who did not deal with repairs and building the engines etc. still were exposed to asbestos.
For example, any employee who was around a roadhouse, railroad shop or repair shop could breathe in asbestos dust because it was common for railroad employees there to cut, sand and smooth materials that contained the deadly mineral.
This would release tiny asbestos fibers into the air where it could be breathed in, or could attach to their clothes and skin. Some of the fibers that are inhaled can be expelled, but some of them get stuck in the lung lining and stay there for decades. Over the years, the build up of fibers can lead to scarring and inflammation that can cause mesothelioma.
Further, a lot of asbestos materials were used in public cabins and carriages, in floor tiles and wallboards for heat and fire protection. This made yardmasters and conductors susceptible to exposure to asbestos exposure if the floor tiles or wallboards were torn through constant use.
Railroad workers also were exposed to asbestos when using equipment on the railroads, including gaskets and sealing cement. Both were used in the sealing of pipe joints and valves.
When asbestos was used in brake pads, brake lining and clutches, it could lead to high exposure for railroad mechanics. Asbestos was used in these applications because of its high resistance to heat and friction. But through the daily wear and tear of stopping huge trains, the parts would wear down and sometimes tear, which would expose workers to asbestos. When the pads and linings were replaced, there was a lot of manipulation required, and this exposed workers to large amounts of asbestos fibers and dust.
Railroad Worker Asbestos Exposure – The Science Behind It
Wilhelm C. Hueper did research that showed that cases of lung cancer were at least three times higher among workers on railroads, including engineers, firemen, conductors, brakemen, switchmen and roundhouse workers, than workers that did not work in railroad operations.
Further, a study done by the Department of Medicine of Brigham and Women’s Hospital called ‘Past Exposure to Asbestos Among Active Railroad Workers’ found that before there was a transition from steam powered engines to diesel-powered engines in the 1950s, railroad workers were at much higher risk to asbestos exposure. Other studies that were done by that department found that older workers with jobs related to the repair of old steam engines had the highest level of exposure.
Also, a railroad worker survey from the 1980s found that 21% of the workers surveyed who were 50 years or older had likely been exposed to asbestos. Three percent of workers who were younger than 50 had possible exposure to asbestos. The length of time of exposure for the older workers was about three years.
Lawsuits Related to Asbestos Exposure in the Railroad Industry
Railroad workers do not have access to the typical workers’ compensation system in all states. Rather, railroad workers that are hurt can sue their employers for their injuries under FELA or the Federal Employers Liability Act. A lawsuit under FELA is a civil lawsuit where the injured worker has to show that the company’s negligence led to their mesothelioma or other injury.
The action can be brought in state or federal court. For the injury to be covered by FELA, the company must work in more than one state. If the railroad is only working in one state, you can see the manufacturer of the products that contain asbestos but not the railroad.
Railroad companies often try to avoid FELA claims that have been filed by employees after the company declared bankruptcy. If you have been exposed to asbestos at a railroad and have an asbestos-related illness, it is important to talk to a good mesothelioma attorney in your state.
Asbestos and Mesothelioma Attorneys for Railroad Workers
These are excellent mesothelioma attorneys who specialize in the railroad industry:
Cahill & Perry, P.C.
405 Lexington Ave, 26th Floor
New York NY 10174
Cahill & Perry, P.C. has been a strong advocate for railroad employees and their loved ones for 40 years. The attorneys at this respected asbestos cancer law firm have handled many large railroad injury cases, including mesothelioma cases. This law firm states on its website that it believes in the importance and value of rail labor, and wants to give back to the railroad community by representing them against negligent railroad companies that caused their illnesses.
Martin E. Jackson, P.C.
PO Box 862
Conifer CO 80433
The Law Offices of Martin E. Jackson are highly experienced in defending the rights of railroad employees whose lives have been devastated by various occupational diseases, including mesothelioma and asbestosis. He has recovered $50 million in verdicts and settlements for occupational disease clients, including mesothelioma and lung disease.
Simmons, Hanly and Conroy
One Court Street
Alton IL 62002
Since 1999, this law firm has recovered more than $5 billion in settlements and verdicts for thousands of clients, with many of them suffering from mesothelioma from working for railroads. If you need a mesothelioma attorney who really understands your situation and can get you compensation that you need, this is a law firm to consider.
- Causes of Asbestos Cancer. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/asbestos.html
- OSHA Asbestos Regulations. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3096/3096.html