Exposure to asbestos, even just minor exposure, is known to cause fatal diseases such as lung cancer, asbestosis, or mesothelioma (an incurable type of asbestos cancer that commonly affects your lungs). Why is this important for railroad workers and loved ones of railroad workers? Because, from 1990 to 1999, one of the most frequently listed industry recorded deaths of asbestosis were railroad workers. This means that railroad workers are more likely to wind up developing a life-threatening form of cancer. This is especially true for older railroad workers who were exposed to asbestos before the railroad industry begrudgingly took steps to remove asbestos from train cabs and other parts.
Whether you’re an engineer, yardmaster, brake operator, hostlers or conductor, you may be at risk for developing mesothelioma or other form of asbestos cancer. This is because asbestos was used in a variety of railroad parts and compartments for decades. Asbestos became well-known as a fire-retardant and heat insulator. It was also used in boiler and pipe insulation, high-temperature gaskets and brake and clutch linings. In addition, asbestos was used to insulate steam locomotives and diesel locomotives, along with being used for insulating rail cars, refrigeration units, pipes, water lines, and so on. As you can tell, asbestos was used often and in so many different settings that a wide array of rail workers may wind up developing a form of asbestos cancer.
The risk of developing asbestos cancer, like mesothelioma, is especially high for railroad workers who were required to install, removed or inspect insulation of asbestos. For example, during inspections, a railroad worker may have been asked to strip asbestos insulation off of boilers in a process that could let asbestos dust become airborne (which means any workers who were in the vicinity may have breathed that toxic dust in). The same health concern arises for railroad mechanics who were required to inspect and/or repair brake and clutch linings.
Some railroad workers may be thinking, “I worked around asbestos a lot and never remember seeing dust or breathing in anything bad.” This is understandable since asbestos fibers are minuscule and hardly noticeable to the naked eye. But what you may not know is that asbestos fibers can remain airborne for a protracted period of time, which means that even railroad workers who did not handle asbestos products directly could have been exposed and therefore at risk of developing an asbestos cancer like mesothelioma or asbestosis.
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