Occupational Disease and Toxic Exposure

For decades railroaders worked in environments that was unknowingly exposing them to carcinogens, chemicals, and airborne particles that the railroad industry was aware caused cancers and diseases. These are commonly known as occupational diseases. In instances where the railroad failed to maintain a reasonably safe working environment, the railroader or their families are entitled to compensation under the FELA. Examples of exposures and diseases that our railroad attorneys have handled include asbestos caused cancers such as mesothelioma, cancers and respiratory diseases caused by diesel exhaust, benzene, creosote, and many other sources of exposure.

Diesel exhaust, for example, has long been known to contain a chemical compound particulates, chemicals, and hard metals, such as such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and benzene. Individually, these chemicals and metal particulates have long been known to cause cancer. Combined they created a high risk of occupational disease for those who were in frequent contact with diesel exhaust and smoke. These exposures were worsened by a railroad industry that knew or should have known that exposure could cause disease but did not ventilate cabs, change equipment, or even warn workers. Often the railroad compounded the risk by having locomotive units that would directly blow exhaust back into the cabs by having a rear-facing locomotive that emitted fumes directly into the trailing locomotive, or sent locomotives into tunnels and facilities that were not properly ventilated. Good FELA attorneys will know that there is a body of scientific studies and medical literature discussing the connection between diesel exhaust and occupational diseases. Diesel fumes were particularly dangerous because the particles were microscopic and invisible to the eye. But once the particulates and chemicals in these fumes were breathed in, they lodged deep in the lungs. Diesel particles tend to remain in lodged in the lungs rather than being cleared from the body, which causes them to be particularly hazardous. Railroaders in many different crafts were exposed, including those in the operating departments such as engineers, conductors, fireman, and brakeman, and those in yard towers, shops, and maintenance facilities, among others. If the railroad knew or should have known the dangers of diesel exhaust and did nothing, compensation can be attained for workers with disease and families of railroad workers who died because of these diseases.

Asbestos exposure is another tragic example. Asbestos-containing materials, including insulation, brake and friction products, and gaskets, were heavily used for many decades in the railroad industry. Early on those that made asbestos and the railroad industry itself knew that asbestos could cause disease and deadly cancers such as mesothelioma. But neither asbestos manufacturers nor the railroads warned of the hazards of exposure to asbestos dust and did not provide safety equipment or abate asbestos from the workplace until decades later, and today many workers suffer from asbestos-related disease.

FELA has a three-year statute of limitations that begins to run when you knew or should have known that the railroad’s failure to provide a safe work place caused an occupational disease such as lung cancer, mesothelioma, and lymphomas. It can be difficult to identify this exact date and the clock starts ticking immediately. This is why it is important to contact a good FELA attorney as soon as you’re aware of the diagnosis and you or your doctor suspect that exposure occurred on the railroad. The Bolt Hoffer Boyd Law Firm has experience getting to the root cause of these occupational diseases and moving quickly to protect our clients’ rights.