Railroad Injuries: Workplace Exposure And Cancer

If you have been or are currently working for a rail company, you may be exposed to workplace hazards that cause cancer. Poolson | Oden is currently representing Railroaders, Engineers, Conductors, Carmen, Switchmen, Signalmen, Sheet Metal Workers, and many other rail workers affected by occupational hazards. Their work-related exposures have caused them to suffer various cancers, including lung, stomach, bladder, rectal, throat, brain, and many others. At Poolson | Oden, we stand up for your rights against rail companies such as Amtrak, Union Pacific (UP), Illinois Central Railroad Company (IC, ICRC), BNSF, and more.


Don’t get railroaded. Contact Poolson | Oden at 504-766-2200 or submit the confidential form, and we will reach out to you for a free conversation about your situation.

Whether you are aware or not, working as a railroader, you have been exposed to many dangerous and/or carcinogenic chemicals and products. Most railroaders we help work around these chemicals and products regularly, without realizing the level of danger. Below is a list of some of railroad workers’ most common hazardous exposures. You may click on any topic to read more about each to help identify a compensation claim that is suitable for you due to workplace exposure.

  1. Diesel Exposure and Exhaust Fumes
  2. Silica
  3. Asbestos
  4. Creosote and Railroad Ties
  5. Benzene
  6. Round-Up
Unfortunately, continuous exposure to any of these may cause long-term illnesses, including various types of cancer. It’s essential to understand your occupational exposures and what diseases they could cause; you may be experiencing unexplained symptoms currently. It’s also possible you were diagnosed with an illness or cancer but didn’t realize your occupational hazard exposure may be the cause. If you fall into any of these categories, you may be entitled to compensation for your occupational illness.

As you likely know, diesel is a fuel derived from crude oil. Diesel fuel is used in most large engines, including those used in many trains, trucks, buses, construction and farm equipment, generators, ships, and some cars. Unfortunately for railroaders, diesel is carcinogenic to humans, meaning its fumes can cause cancer.

It can be surprising and disheartening for railroad workers to learn that diesel exhaust fumes can be so hazardous.

Each person’s reaction to diesel exhaust and fumes will be different.  Exposure levels vary based on the work environment, ventilation systems, exhausts, and personal protection equipment (“PPE”), to name a few.

Diesel exposure can cause cancer and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (“COPD”).  COPD is a disorder that affects a person’s lungs and ability to breathe.  Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are two long-term lung conditions of COPD disorder.

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Emphysema is a lung condition that causes shortness of breath. In people with emphysema, the air sacs in the lungs (alveoli) are damaged. Over time, the inner walls of the air sacs weaken and rupture—creating larger air spaces instead of many small ones.

Chronic Bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis is inflammation (swelling) and irritation of the bronchial tubes. These tubes are the airways that carry air to and from the air sacs in your lungs. The irritation of the tubes causes mucus to build up.

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COPD is often not diagnosed until the illness has progressed.  There are many different tests used to determine if a railroader has COPD.  Such tests include:

  • Pulmonary Function Test (“PFT”)
  • CT Scans
  • Chest X-rays
  • Arterial blood gas analysis
  • Laboratory tests

Suppose you are experiencing shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. In that case, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor immediately and advise your doctor of your occupational history and other possible exposures.


For more information on preventing or reducing workplace exposures at the railroad, consult your company’s safety and health manager. If needed, you can get additional assistance from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), the government agency responsible for enforcing workplace safety.


To learn more about Diesel exposure, risks, illness, and treatment, visit The American Cancer Society at https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/diesel-exhaust-and-cancer.html.


If you are experiencing symptoms, or have been diagnosed with an illness or cancer caused by workplace hazards, reach out now. Our experienced FELA (Federal Employers’ Liability Act) railroad trial attorneys are ready to review your situation free, with no strings attached. Call, chat, email, or fill out the form today.


If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, or have been diagnosed with an illness or cancer caused by workplace hazards, reach out now. Our experienced FELA (Federal Employers’ Liability Act) railroad trial attorneys are ready to review your situation for free, with no strings attached. Call, chat, email, or fill out the form today.


Silica is one of the most common minerals in the earth’s crust. Glass, beach sand, silicone, quartz, and granite are all silica materials. There are two forms of silica–crystalline and noncrystalline. The most common form of crystalline silica is quartz, found in sand, gravel, clay, granite, diatomaceous earth, and many other rock forms. Non-crystalline silica is found in glass, silicon carbide, and silicone. Crystalline silica is a bigger worry for the health of your lungs. When we talk about workplace or occupational silica exposure, we speak about crystalline silica or quartz.

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When we talk about workplace or occupational silica exposure, we speak about crystalline silica or quartz.

In the 1990s, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (“NIOSH”) conducted investigations and air sampling testing during CSX Transportation, Incorporated (CSXT) track maintenance. NIOSH investigators determined a health hazard for railroad track maintenance workers from occupational exposure to crystalline silica. This risk was indicated by personal measurements of airborne respirable crystalline silica that exceeded occupational exposure guidelines. The hazard was significant for workers who operated ballast regulating, broom, and tamping machines and for track repairmen who dumped ballast. Reduction of worker exposure to airborne dust was recommended to protect the health of the workers engaged in these activities. To read the full articles, click here.

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Silica Exposure and Health Risks attorney

Silicosis is a lung disease. It usually happens in jobs where you breathe in dust that contains silica. That’s a tiny crystal found in sand, rock, or mineral ores like quartz. Over time, silica can build up in your lungs and breathing passages. This leads to scarring that makes it hard to breathe.



Silicosis symptoms include:

  • Cough
  • Mucus
  • Shortness of breath (“SOB”)
  • Wheezing
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Chest pain
  • Fever
  • Swollen legs
  • Blue lips

Asbestos is a heat-resistant fibrous silicate mineral that has been used in many products and materials such as sheetrock, bricks, brake linings, brake pumps, and concrete. Asbestos has been used historically in insulation, roof shingles, and siding. Asbestos was also found in brake pads and drilling mud. Asbestos as a property of another product may not necessarily be dangerous. However, when the asbestos fibers, which are so small they are invisible to the naked eye, become hazardous to humans when they are airborne. For example, if your home has asbestos shingles, as long as those shingles are not torn or ripped, allowing the asbestos fibers to become airborne, then those shingles will not necessarily be a danger to you. However, those asbestos fibers can be released into the atmosphere by abrasion and other processes, becoming a threat to you.


Asbestos is a known carcinogen, a substance capable of causing cancer in living tissue.  Asbestos exposure, including chrysotile, causes cancer of the lung, larynx, ovaries, and also mesothelioma (a cancer of the pleural and peritoneal linings). Many companies that sold asbestos products in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, actually knew the health effects of exposure to asbestos. Regardless of the effects on the companies’ workers, consumers, customers, and bystanders—these companies continued to manufacture their asbestos products for profit.

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How do I know whether I’ve been exposed to asbestos?

The effects of asbestos exposure often take decades to manifest and become diagnosable. There are many signs and symptoms of exposure to asbestos, including shortness of breath, tightness in your chest, chest pain, appetite loss, finger clubbing, persistent dry cough, and nail deformities. Long-standing exposure to asbestos may also result in changes to your lungs that can be seen on imaging such as x-rays, MRIs, and CT scans.


Such findings include pleural plaques or diffuse pleural thickening. Pleural plaques are deposits of hyalinized collagen fibers in the parietal pleura. They indicate asbestos exposure and typically become visible 20 years after inhaling asbestos fibers. Diffuse pleural thickening is where extensive, often smooth scarring, thickeåns the pleural membrane lining of your lungs and chest wall. A pulmonologist (lung doctor) would be the best medical provider to provide an opinion about your lungs and what your x-rays, MRIs, and CT scans reveal. If you think you may have been exposed to asbestos, seek medical attention.


What is asbestosis?

Asbestosis is a chronic lung disease caused by inhaling asbestos fibers. Prolonged exposure to these fibers can cause lung tissue scarring and shortness of breath. Asbestosis symptoms can range from mild to severe and usually do not appear until many years, if not decades, after continued exposure. If exposed to airborne asbestos dust over a long period, some fibers can become lodged in your lungs. The asbestos fibers irritate and scar lung tissue, causing the lungs to become stiff, which makes it difficult to breathe.

Who is at risk for asbestosis?

Many blue-collar industries, including those who worked in mining, milling, manufacturing, installation, or removal of asbestos products in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, are at risk of asbestosis. Some examples of affected workers include:

  • Railroad workers
  • Asbestos miners
  • Shipyard workers
  • Electricians
  • Workers removing asbestos insulation around steam pipes in older buildings
  • Aircraft and auto mechanics
  • Boiler operators
  • Building construction workers
What is mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a tissue tumor that lines the lungs, stomach, heart, and other organs. Cancerous (malignant) mesothelioma is the most common form, usually affecting the lungs. Exposure and inhalation of asbestos fibers can cause mesothelioma. Treatment for mesothelioma may include surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation.

Who is at risk for mesothelioma?
  • Blue-collar workers such as railroad workers, shipyard workers, construction workers, power plant workers, offshore workers (particularly those working with drilling mud, asbestos, and viscosifier products), firefighters, and others in blue-collar occupations.
  • Military Veterans who served in the U.S. Navy, Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard.
  • Secondhand Exposure from Affected Parties. Even family members such as spouses and children could have been exposed to asbestos from a family member living in the same house. For example, spouses who wash clothes for offshore workers may have extended secondhand asbestos exposure, causing illness.

Railroad tracks are made of three main parts: the long steel rails that the trains run on, railroad ties, and the track ballast that helps bear a train’s weight and keeps the track clear of plants. As a part of track installation and maintenance, railroad ties may be treated with creosote to help with their longevity in the weather and harsh conditions. Creosote is derived from the distillation of tar from wood or coal and is used as a wood preservative.

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​Short-term exposure to creosote can cause skin, eye, and respiratory irritation. However, longer-term exposure may cause organ damage or cancer. Rail workers exposure to creosote can be dangerous and lead to the following consequences:

  • Chemical burns to the skin
  • Eye irritation
  • Respiratory problems
  • Kidney or liver problems due to toxicity
  • Convulsions
  • Mental confusion
  • Death
Benzene is another chemical known to be present in the railroad environment. Benzene is a colorless or light yellow liquid chemical that is highly flammable and evaporates into the air very quickly. Benzene is formed from natural processes, such as volcanoes and forest fires, but most exposure to benzene results from human activities. Benzene is among the 20 most widely used chemicals in the United States. It is primarily used as a starting material in other chemicals, including plastics, lubricants, rubbers, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides.
Benzene is a known carcinogen, meaning it is a chemical known for causing cancer.
The primary way people are exposed is by breathing in air containing benzene. Benzene is also a natural part of crude oil, gasoline (and therefore motor vehicle exhaust), and cigarette smoke. It can manifest as exhaust from vehicles, industrial emissions, or vapors from different paints. Benzene is known to affect railroad workers because of its close proximity to the train’s diesel fumes. The chemical is known to cause cancer and other illnesses such as diminished immune system, anemia, and cancer such as leukemia. Benzene is also known to be harmful to reproductive organs. Benzene can also be absorbed through the skin during contact with a source such as gasoline, but because liquid benzene evaporates quickly, this is less common. Benzene in any quantity is dangerous, but railroad workers can be exposed to exceptionally high levels. To learn more about Benzene exposure, risks, illness, and treatment, visit The American Cancer Society.
Roundup and Glyphosate Weed Killer
For years, maintenance workers have been using chemicals to help control vegetation growth around railroad tracks. Recent studies have linked a high risk of developing certain cancers after significant exposure to the weed killer Glyphosate, commonly found in brand name products like “RoundUp.” Railroaders are unfortunately exposed extensively to this carcinogenic substance on the tracks, which can lead to severe illnesses, including cancer.
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Very knowledgeable and thorough. Quick and responsive. Couldn't be more pleased with the outcome. Would not hesitate to use Danny and his firm again. First rate all the way.
Phillip B.


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