Diesel Exhaust and Fumes

Diesel exhaust contains well over a thousand harmful components that can lead to pulmonary disease and cancer. With the conversion from steam locomotives to diesel power in the railroad industry during the 1950’s, railroad workers and others became exposed to a whole new cocktail of harmful gases, fumes and particulates emitted by the diesel locomotives. Many of the earlier locomotives were very “smoky” due to poor combustion of the diesel fume by those engines. Many railroad crews had to ride with the “long hood forward” ahead of the cab exposing them to the harmful effects of these fumes. Others were required to ride in the second and third locomotives of a train consist causing them to be exposed to even more fumes generated by the locomotives in front of them as the trains traveled. In the early years, shop workers had considerable exposure because diesel locomotives were allowed to be brought into the shops running and remain running while they were inside poorly ventilated buildings that were not designed for the new diesel locomotives. Many railroad workers were exposed to these harmful fumes up to twelve hours per day for decades. As a result, many have developed lung disease and even cancer caused by diesel exhaust. The Moody Law Firm, Inc. has in depth experience at representing railroad workers in cases of disease caused by diesel exhaust.
Diesel exhaust is generally made up of two main components – the gaseous phase and the particulate phase. The gaseous phase contains many harmful components, including carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, formaldehyde, acrolein, nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide. These components cause acute affects such as irritation of the respiratory tract and burning, watering eyes. Most of these affects are usually temporary and disappear when the exposure ceases. The second component is the particulate phase. In the exhaust are millions of unburned carbon particles that appear as dark smoke or soot. Attached to these particles are hundreds of chemical compounds that get carried deep within the lungs and deposited. Several recognized carcinogens which are attached to the carbon particles include benzopyrene and polynuclear aeromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). Once there, the chemicals can be absorbed into the lung tissue and cause several ailments including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and lung cancer.

Literature regarding the harmful affects of the exposure to diesel exhaust have appeared in the medical journals since as early as the 1960’s. There are many articles published discussing this topic, including some which are not specific to railroad workers. In the 1980’s, researchers at Harvard began studying the harmful affects specific to railroad workers and have published many articles regarding the increased risk of lung cancer and other diseases to railroad workers. There are now very good epidemiological studies linking lung cancer and COPD with diesel exhaust. Railroad workers who have the highest potential for exposure and disease from diesel exhaust include:

Railroad crafts who The Moody Law Firm, Inc. have helped obtain compensation for asbestos related diseases include:
  • Engineers
  • Firemen
  • Conductors
  • Brakemen
  • Some Shop Workers​
Most of the medical studies have focused on train crews and determined that only the earlier shop workers had significant exposure. In the early railroad years, railroads brought the engines into the shops with the engines running and left them running while inside the building. Many of these shops were designed for steam locomotives and not for the new diesels and had very poor ventilation. This poor ventilation allowed exhaust fumes to accumulate in the shops where employees breathe those fumes constantly while working there.

Train crews have had several other common exposures. Earlier locomotives were smokier than the newer technology used to build diesel locomotives today. Other things have affected crews’ exposure, such as the removal of cabooses from trains which required them to ride on trailing locomotive units. Poor maintenance of engines which allowed exhaust leaks from the engine compartment into the cab and bad cab seals on doors and windows causing exhaust fumes to enter the cab. Tunnels are a particular problem for train crews who cannot escape the exhaust plume that envelopes the locomotive as they travel through long tunnels. There are numerous complaints on record with most railroads as well as with the Federal Railroad Administration regarding train crews being exposed to excessive diesel exhaust.

Railroad workers who develop lung disease or cancer as a result of on the job exposure to diesel exhaust are entitled to compensation and are covered under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act. This law provides compensation for employees for occupational diseases such as those caused by diesel exhaust. The railroads have been aware for a long time regarding the hazards associated with these exposures and yet have not taken sufficient steps in many cases to protect workers from exposures that would cause disease. If you or your loved one has been injured due to a workplace exposure on the railroad and has developed a disease or cancer as a result of that, The Moody Law Firm, Inc. can help you. We have decades of experience assisting railroad workers with claims for occupational diseases and stand ready to assist you and your families.

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