Mesothelioma, Asbestos Diseases, and Cancers For Railroad Workers

The railroad industry heavily used asbestos in the 20th century. Because of the heavy use of asbestos in the industry and long developing nature of mesothelioma, railroad workers diagnosed with mesothelioma is still common. Railroad and FELA attorneys can still make claims for these railroad asbestos caused diseases.

Railroad asbestos use was common with insulation on mains, pipes, boilers, brakes, gaskets and in the electrical and heat insulation in the walls, ceiling and flooring of railroad cars. Some of the typical exposures for railroad workers occurred in the following non-comprehensive list:

Steam Locomotives/Boilers

An array of railroad equipment, locomotives, or train cars are associated with asbestos diseases and cancers. One of the most dangerous asbestos sources causing cancers and asbestosis is the insulating materials used on steam locomotives. Many railroads used steam locomotives well through the 1960s. Steam locomotives were loaded with asbestos, not only on the outside of the engine, but inside the engine cab as well. The outside of the steam locomotives were covered with asbestos insulation called “lagging,” also called magnesium, which is large insulating blankets of pure asbestos. These asbestos products were sold by companies like Johns-Manville and other who are now bankrupt or have changed names. Another frequent source of asbestos was the insulation covered the boilers and fireboxes.

Asbestos insulation totally surrounded boilers on steam locomotives. The steam pipes were covered with asbestos insulation or insulating tape. Firemen and other workers needed to keep the fire going by feeding coal needed to keep the fire up in the engine “firebox,” all insulated with asbestos. Jostling and vibrations from the regular use of the locomotives would shake and shed asbestos fibers free and send them into the air. This problem was compounded by a lack of ventilation in the locomotives which would circulate the asbestos fibers throughout the cabs. Even though these fibers were small or invisible to see, they were deadly. Diseases from these fibers are still popping up, as mesothelioma is a slow developing diseases that can take in excess of fifty years to develop.

Before the transition to diesel locomotives, nearly every railroad employee working on, repairing, maintaining, or encountering locomotives had a large change of frequently being exposed to asbestos. This is supported by published literature.

Diesel Locomotives

Contrary to information promoted by railroads, the end of the steam engine era did not end the asbestos era for railroad locomotives. First, there were many gaskets that were made of asbestos. Asbestos fibers would shake and fly off of these gaskets and into the air. Parts of the engines, radios, and insulation all contained asbestos. For some railroads, diesel locomotives contained asbestos into the 1990s, despite knowing that its diesel locomotives contained asbestos for decades.

Roundhouses and Railroad Shop

Railroad roundhouses and shops contained large amounts of asbestos. Workers in and near roundhouses came in frequent if not constant contact with asbestos. Insulation, gaskets, brakes, pipes, and many other items were dismantled and installed in the roundhouses. Typically, sheets of asbestos would be brought into the roundhouses and workers would cut, shave, and jostle them into their intended use. Likewise, asbestos would be ripped and shredded off of locomotives and railroad cars for repairs and replacement. Because asbestos products were constantly being disturbed in the roundhouses, tons of asbestos fibers were constantly being released into the air and inhaled by railroad workers in or near roundhouses and shops. These dangers continued well into the 1960’s. Despite the high use of asbestos — and the railroad industry knowing it was deadly back in the 1930s — the railroads did not inform their workers of the dangers, provide respiratory equipment, ventilation, or other basic safety measures. Exposure to asbestos product in roundhouses and shops was worsened because exposure occurred in enclosed in areas with poor ventilation. Because of the high use of and exposure to released asbestos, roundhouse and shop workers experience some of the highest rates of asbestos related diseases such, as mesothelioma, asbestos-induced lung diseases, asbestosis, and asbestos cancers.

Brake Shoes

Asbestos is cheap, extremely durable, and particularly effective in high friction and heat situations. This made asbestos particularly attractive for use in railroad brake and was used in the form by all railroads, some well into the 1990s. Asbestos fibers were released into the air by basic use of grinding and friction. Asbestos was also released in heavy forms when replacing brake shoes because of the jostling and scraping involved.

Other Sources of Railroad Employee Exposure

There were many other ways that railroad workers and contractors were exposed to asbestos. Cabooses contained large amounts of asbestos in their ceilings and floors, and did brakes. Rail cars were insulated with asbestos. This is particularly true for refrigeration cars. Asbestos was used in yard offices and other railroad buildings, as well as steam pipes. Railroad workers even encountered asbestos in bunks, housing, and hotels. There were also many spouses who were exposed by their husbands who unknowingly brought home asbestos on their cloths.

Sadly, railroads knew that asbestos was a problem back in the 1930s and also knew there were simple measures to reduce exposure for workers. It did nothing for decades to abate, warn workers, or even provide simple safety measures to reduce their workers’ exposure to asbestos. Asbestos diseases are awful and can be extremely deadly, particularly cancers such as mesothelioma. Compensation can be obtained by good railroad asbestos attorneys for:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Fear of death
  • Medical and funeral expenses
  • Pecuniary losses, such as benefits and wage capacity.

Claims against railroads under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) must be brought within three years when the worker knew or should have known that the occupational disease/wrongful death was caused or may have been caused by exposure to asbestos while working for a railroad. Claims against manufacturers and other providers of asbestos may have different statutes, as will claims for spouses and non-railroad employees.

Because no two asbestos or mesothelioma cases are alike, we specifically tailor our legal representation to give each and every client specialized legal to the specific facts of their claim and will not stop until justice is achieved. We are 100% dedicated to every client we take on, no matter how big or small the case. We handle each case with care and commitment to getting you and your family just compensation. Contact us at Bolt Hoffer Boyd Law Firm to schedule an initial consultation with a railroad attorney today.