As a lifelong resident of the Norfolk area,and a FELA lawyer who helps Norfolk Southern and CSXT railroad employees in cases against the companies, I notice the piles of "black gold"- coal- whether driving to court in Newport News or fishing in the river. If you've ever had to drive over the Monitor-Merrimac bridge tunnel on Interstate-664 (I-664) in Newport News, Virginia (VA), chances are you've seen the big black piles of coal waiting for shipment. It's these same big black piles that are coating surrounding neighborhoods in the Newport News, Virginia (VA) area with coal dust. Coal dust is more than just annoying. Many residents complain of asthma in fact a Peninsula Health District study shows that Newport News residents in the Southeast Community experience asthma rates more than twice the city and state averages.
The coal company denies that coal dust contributes to health problems. It is the same attitude of denial that has harmed so many industrial railroad workers over the years. These men and women have worked in dangerous conditions without knowing that the air they were breathing in was 10 times as dangerous as the lumbering train going by. For example, exposure to formaldehyde is now plaguing many rail road workers. Formaldehyde is just one of the many harmful chemicals that are produced from diesel fumes that train engines burn.
Just this June federal health officials declared formaldehyde to be a known carcinogen. Why is that so important? Well it gives experienced Virginia rail road attorneys like myself another tool to prove to jury's that despite rail road companies denials, these are cancer causing fumes that now have rail road workers facing the risk of developing nose, throat and blood cancers.
The Newport News residents are wise to complain about their exposure to coal dust in their homes. However I feel the most compassion for the families of railroad workers who unknowingly endangered their own lives and the lives of their family by having to breathe in these potentially hazardous chemicals every working day of their life.