Railroad Workers’ Benzene Exposure Linked to Cancer

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A number of railroad workers have filed lawsuits against railroad companies alleging that their cancer diagnoses are directly linked to their on the job exposure to benzene.

Benzene Background

Benzene is formed from both natural processes and human activities. Volcanoes and forest fires produce benzene and it is occurs naturally in crude oil, gasoline, and cigarette smoke. Benzene is a component of products derived from coal and petroleum and it is found in gasoline and other fuels. Some industries use benzene to make other chemicals that are used to make plastics, resins, and nylon and synthetic fibers. Benzene is widely used in the United States; it ranks in the top 20 chemicals for production volume.

Short-term exposure to high levels of benzene can cause drowsiness, dizziness, unconsciousness, and death. Long-term benzene exposure causes harmful effects on the bone marrow and can result in a decrease in red blood cells, leading to anemia. It can also cause excessive bleeding and can affect the immune system, increasing the chance for infection.

The attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP have decades of experience representing clients in personal injury lawsuits over occupational hazards. The firm offers free legal consultations to railroad workers with questions about filing a benzene exposure lawsuit.

Benzene has been classified as a known carcinogen by agencies including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). According to the American Cancer Society, both human and animal research have shown that benzene can cause cancer, in particular blood-cell cancers. People with occupational benzene exposure have higher rates of acute myeloid leukemia. The shoe making and oil refining industries involve a higher risk of benzene exposure.

The use of benzene was banned over twenty years ago in the United States because of the link between benzene exposure and cancer. But many products used by railroads still contain dangerous amounts of benzene and railroad workers are exposed to benzene when they inhale diesel fumes. The cancer risks include lung cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, colon cancer, stomach cancer, rectal cancer, throat cancer, esophageal cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, mesothelioma, multiple myeloma, and leukemia.

Safety Tips after Benzene Exposure

The CDC offers safety tips for workers who have been exposed to benzene. First, move to an area with fresh air away from where benzene is in the air. The CDC recommends moving contaminated clothing immediately. Clothing should not be pulled over the head, but should instead be cut off. The exposed individual should wash as soon as possible with large amounts of soap and water. The clothes that have been exposed to benzene should be placed in a sealed plastic bag and that bag should be sealed in another plastic bag. Anyone disposing of contaminated clothing should wear rubber gloves and use tongs or a stick to pick up the clothes. Contact lenses should be removed and put with the contaminated clothing. Glasses can be put on again after they are washed with soap and water.

Additional Health Hazards for Railroad Workers

Railroad workers face health risks from creosote. Creosote (coal tar), used to coat railroad ties to prevent rot, is known to cause skin cancer. In ordinary circumstances, most people are not exposed to creosote often enough for it to be a cancer risk, but railroad workers are exposed to creosote on railroad ties as part of their regular work. Federal agencies recommend that companies avoid using lumber coated with creosote in residential construction and private landscaping.

Diesel exhaust is also a health hazard. The exhaust is a mixture of gases and particulate matter. The organic carbon in diesel exhaust includes polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), some of which cause cancer when tested in animals. Workers exposed to diesel exhaust face the risk of health effects ranging from irritation of the eyes and nose, headaches and nausea, to respiratory disease and lung cancer. Workers in a number of occupations are exposed to diesel fumes, including miners, construction workers, heavy equipment operators, bridge and tunnel workers, railroad workers, oil and gas workers, loading dock workers, truck drivers, material handling operators, farmworkers, long-shoring workers, and auto, truck and bus maintenance garage workers.

Personal Injury Lawsuit

If you or someone you know has developed cancer or suffered adverse health effects as a result of occupational exposure to benzene, creosote, or diesel fumes and you are considering filing a lawsuit, the personal injury attorneys at Parker Waichman can provide a free, no-obligation case evaluations. For more information, fill out our online form or call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).