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Could Railroads Be Doing More to Help Railroad Workers with Mesothelioma?

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Mesothelioma is a rare but deadly cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.  While mesothelioma cancer strikes the outer lining of the human lung, medical science has not been able to provide a cure for the cancer which can arise even from minimal or fleeting exposure to airborne asbestos fibers, even at a microscopic level invisible to the human eye. One cannot imagine a more toxic carcinogenic substance than microscopic fibers that hook into the human lung and can cause a cancer 40 years later. Typically, the prognosis for this incurable cancer is as short as six months to a couple of years before the cancer becomes fatal. It can take decades (typically 15 to 40 years) for someone afflicted with mesothelioma to have symptoms, which include coughing, chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, and nausea. Once diagnosed, treatment options include chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery to combat the disease, and other treatments to give the victim some relief from the symptoms, but mesothelioma remains incurable. It has randomly affected workers in many trades and crafts, but railroad workers have suffered from this terrible disease for decades, because asbestos was widely used as an insulating material in the railroad industry as early as the 1930s.

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Even though it was determined that asbestos was very dangerous in the 1970s, railroads continued to use asbestos in their train and locomotive parts until the 1980s, and the evidence suggests that there are still asbestos containing parts and hundreds of railroad diesel engines and other pieces of equipment. And unfortunately, some of these parts are still in use today. The length of time it takes for symptoms to appear, combined with the number of years asbestos was used in the railroad industry, means there are most likely hundreds of railroad workers who have debilitating terminal cancer and don’t even know it.

What else could railroad companies be doing to help their past and present employees?

Inspect and remove all railroad parts containing asbestos – Testing can be done on brakes, clutches, pipes, and other engine parts to determine if they contain asbestos. If they do, railroads should absolutely replace the parts or take the engines out of service to avoid exposing current railroad employees to asbestos. While the railroads quietly and without fanfare removed asbestos over the last 20 years, often the railroads would leave asbestos in place if it was not fraying or in deteriorating condition-even knowing that some remaining parts still were asbestos containing.

Provide free monitoring programs – For the last 16 years, former asbestos plant workers in Poland have been offered free medical exams to check for mesothelioma. Out of 1700 workers who have been tested, 289 had mesothelioma, the terrible incurable cancer of the lining of the lung. Without this free program, these cases may have gone undiagnosed and the victims wouldn’t have received early intervention treatment for years. The railroad companies who have exposed thousands of workers to asbestos could provide a similar monitoring program to help their current and past employees get treated sooner.

Contribute funds for research – If they aren’t already, railroad companies could help fund research to find a cure for mesothelioma by donating to groups such as the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation. Research is currently being done in Belgium on a breath screening test that may detect early signs of mesothelioma by measuring the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in a person’s breath. During testing, it was 76% accurate in determining people with mesothelioma. This type of testing could also help those affected get treatment before symptoms appear, which only happens once the disease is advanced.

While there is currently no cure for mesothelioma, removing asbestos from working locomotives and providing early detection can eliminate future exposure and allow affected railroad workers to get treatment sooner, which could potentially prolong their lives.

If you or a loved one was exposed to asbestos on the job, whether on the railroad or otherwise, and suffers from mesothelioma, talk to an asbestos cancer lawyer familiar with industrial uses of asbestos, including railroad asbestos equipment use, about your legal options. You or your family may be entitled to compensation from the company or companies responsible for exposing a worker to asbestos fibers, the cause of mesothelioma asbestos cancer.

Richard N. Shapiro
Personal Injury & Wrongful Death Lawyer Serving Va Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake & all of Virginia
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