Being a member of a railroad crew is a difficult and demanding job. In addition to the years you spend gaining knowledge of how locomotives operate and honing engineer or conductor job skills, the physical demands of working for a railroad can take an unseen toll on your health. Railroad engines operate on diesel fuel, which once burned, contains an array of toxic chemicals (polyaromatic hydrocarbons, or PAH’s) that are known carcinogens. Being exposed to these chemicals and PAH’s through diesel exhaust fumes breathed in over the course of a railroad transportation career can dramatically increase the risk of suffering respiratory ailments, including lung cancer and other debilitating lung diseases. 


At Shapiro & Appleton, we defend the rights of railroad crew members who are diagnosed with lung diseases due to toxic engine diesel exhaust exposures, and pursue personal injury compensation from railroad employers under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). As experienced railroad accident and injury lawyers, we are dedicated to holding these companies responsible for failing to warn you of the dangers and for not taking the necessary action to protect you. 


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Toxic Chemicals Burned Off By Locomotive Engines


Since the 1930s, locomotive engines have operated on diesel fuel. Relying on a complex mix of chemicals, most of which are derived from crude oil or petroleum, diesel engines were considered far more efficient and cost effective than the steam engines they replaced. By the 1960s, diesel fuel had taken over the locomotive industry. Unfortunately, it was several decades later before the public became aware of the risks of inhaling diesel fumes on a daily occupational basis. 


As early as the 1970s, scientists began warning the railroad industry of the toxic chemicals contained within diesel fuel. The World Health Organization (WHO) advises that diesel fuel contains hundreds of potentially hazardous substances, many of which are known carcinogens. These substances make their way into the air in railroad cars through the diesel combustion process. This process uses hot air in the engine to ignite the diesel fuel. The resulting flames produce diesel engine exhaust fumes and soot, which contain tiny particulates, including PAH’s. Chemicals from within diesel engines then get dispersed into the air through these particulates, which railroad crew members breathe in. Toxic substances these workers may be exposed to as a result include:  


  • Arsenic;
  • Benzene;
  • Carbon monoxide;
  • Dioxin;
  • Formaldehyde;
  • Nitrogen dioxide;
  • Sulfur dioxide
  • Polyaromatic hydrocarbons. 


All diesel engine exhaust contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a group of more than 100 different combined chemicals. The American Cancer Society links PAHs to increased rates of lung cancer and other potentially deadly lung diseases. 


Lung Diseases Caused By Engine Chemical Exposure


According to research conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), toxic chemicals contained within diesel fuel and dispersed into the environment through diesel exhaust fumes increase the risk of lung diseases among railroad crew members.  Engineers, conductors, trainmen, firemen, and other crew members who end up breathing in large amounts of particulates can all be impacted. Long term exposure can leave these workers suffering the following types of conditions: 


  • Asthma and chronic airway inflammation, in which blocked airways impair breathing and result in chronic coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath;
  • Lung Cancer, caused by chronic, long term exposure to diesel fumes of 20 or more years particularly;
  • Allergic respiratory disease, in which increased sensitivity to allergens can lead to sudden closure of airways;
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), which is a progressive disorder that causes chest tightness, overproduction of mucus, chronic cough, and labored breathing;
  • Emphysema, which is a type of COPD in which air sacs within the lungs suffer permanent damage, making it increasingly difficult for the victim to breathe. 


All of the above lung diseases require extensive, ongoing medical care and can result in permanent disabilities. They also increase your risks for suffering life threatening respiratory infections or other ailments, such as chronic bronchitis and pneumonia. In addition to these dangerous and debilitating diseases, railroad crew members also face increased risks of developing potentially deadly lung cancer due to exposure to diesel engine fumes


Compensation For Railroad Crew Members Who Suffer Lung Disease


Respiratory problems and lung diseases are ranked as one of the leading causes of death and disability among the general population. For railroad crew members in particular, exposure to toxic chemicals contained within diesel engine fumes puts them at an increased risk. 


If you are diagnosed with a lung disease due to your exposure to engine diesel fumes or chemicals, compensation for the medical expenses and other losses you suffer may be available through the Federal Employers Liability Act, or FELA. This allows you to hold the railroad company accountable for operational practices that put you in danger and for failing to warn you of the risks. Even if you are a cigarette smoker and are concerned that your habit may have contributed to your lung disease, you may still be able to collect compensation for a claim if the diesel fumes or chemical exposures medically contributed to cause your lung disorder or lung cancer. 

At Shapiro & Appleton, we are a nationally recognized law firm with over 30 years experience representing railroad workers in FELA claims. Our legal team has the dedication, knowledge, and legal skills needed to help railroad crew members get the compensation they deserve for lung diseases caused by toxic engine chemical exposure. To discuss your specific situation in greater detail, call (833) 997-1774 or contact our railroad accident and injury lawyers online and request a free confidential consultation today.