For decades, employees of big railroad companies like CSX, Norfolk Southern, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, etc. worked around, and breathed in. toxic asbestos fibers. The railroads knew asbestos exposure was a health hazard, but took very little action to protect their employees. As a result, many workers have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, an incurable form of cancer.
What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is cancer of the "mesothelium" which is the protective membrane lining your body's internal organs. Inhaling asbestos while on the job is known to cause this deadly disease. Mesothelioma can affect the following areas of your body:
Mesothelioma found at the lungs is called pleural mesothelioma, and is not inside the lung lobes but rather strikes the external lining of the lung called the pleura. It is the most common form of the asbestos induced cancer. Three of the four cases of the disease begin at the lung pleural lining because of inhalation of asbestos.
Inhaling or swallowing asbestos fibers can trap these in the lining of the abdomen. This mesothelioma is called peritoneal mesothelioma because it occurs in the lining of the peritoneum (abdomen).
In rare cases, asbestos fibers can get lodged in the heart, in the pericardium (the lining around the heart cavity). This is called pericardial mesothelioma.
Malignant cells from the cancer can invade and damage nearby tissues. The cancer can also spread (i.e. metastasize) to other parts of the body as well.
What are the Symptoms of Mesothelioma?
The symptoms of mesothelioma depend on where the cancer forms. Symptoms include:
Pleural (Lung) Mesothelioma
- Fluid buildups (pleural effusions)
- Painful breathing
- Chest pain
- Persistent cough
Peritoneal (Abdomen) Mesothelioma
- Stomach pains
- Fluid buildup (ascites)
- Unexplained weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Swelling and pain in the abdomen
- Bowel obstruction
Pericardial (Heart) Mesothelioma
- Chest pains,
- Pericardial effusion (fluid buildup)
- Heart murmurs.
Unfortunately, many railroad workers chalk up these symptoms to other health issues and only discover, when its too late, that they have mesothelioma. In many instances, employees have retired from their railroad job and are confronted with the mesothelioma diagnosis during retirement.
What Causes Mesothelioma?
The main culprit of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos, which is a group of minerals that have thin microscopic fibers. These fibers are resistant to heat, chemicals, and fire and do not conduct electricity. The fibers have beem used in several industries because of these properties, but asbestos has been discovered to be extremely hazardous to the health of humans. If asbestos fibers are released into the air, workers can inhale them and develop serious health problems. Furthermore, workers can bring the asbestos fibers home on their clothing and unintentionally expose their family members to the fibers. There are rarer causes of mesothelioma such as the mineral zeolite, high doses of radiation, and genetic predisposition to mesothelioma. However, the primary cause is asbestos exposure.
Mesothelioma and Railroad Workers
Workers who were employed at railroads are at risk for mesothelioma because of frequent exposure to asbestos in railroad parts. Railroad companies used asbestos in equipment such as pipes, mains, boilers, gaskets, and brakes. The fibers were also used in the electrical and heat insulation for railroad car walls, ceiling, and flooring. Workers came in contact with asbestos through installing, repairing, and working around these products and materials. Research conducted over the past two decades shows that railroad workers have a considerably higher chance than the general population of developing diseases associated with asbestos exposure including mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis. Given the long latency period of asbestos-related diseases, there remains a very good possibility that thousands of mesothelioma cases have yet to emerge for those who worked within the railroad system of America.