Railroad Workers’ Asbestos Exposure: The Consequences

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Several decades ago, rail was the heart of the American economy. In fact, it was among the key factors that transformed America from a rural area to an industrial hub. It was responsible for connecting different parts of the country and enabled the transportation of vital goods and people.

 While rail had significant benefits that are still felt today, it had one notable downside: asbestos exposure. From the 1930s to the 1980s, asbestos was used to manufacture trains and their components. This led to workers getting exposed to the highly hazardous substance.

 Workers were exposed mainly by inhaling asbestos dust when working with or nearby asbestos-containing materials. For instance, workers could cut into such materials, releasing asbestos particles into the air and onto their clothes where they could be inhaled.

What Materials Were Used in the Manufacture of Asbestos?

Many companies stopped asbestos use in the railroad industry in the 1980s. However, the damage had already been done. Rail corporations had used it to construct materials and equipment in the period preceding the ban. Oftentimes, asbestos that had previously been used in railroad locomotives or buildings was left in place for many years, thereby allowing railroad workers to continue to be exposed for many years.

Asbestos was commonly used to manufacture materials exposed to high temperatures as it had insulating properties. These products included brake pads, brake linings, and clutches. However, these parts eventually wore out, exposing workers and passengers to dangerous asbestos fibers. Workers would have to replace the brake pads and linings during routine maintenance which often resulted in unsafe worker exposure.

 Asbestos was also used in locomotive boilers and fireboxes. Being exposed to high heat, such parts required asbestos for insulation.  Similarly, often times ceiling and floor tiles also used asbestos to provide fire protection and good aesthetic appeal.

 Other asbestos-containing materials used in the railroad industry include disposable gaskets, insulation, plaster, asbestos paint, rope, sealing cement, signal boards, and wallboards. In summary, it is pretty clear that asbestos had extensive use within the American rail industry despite its fatal effects on humans.

Why Was It So Popular?

Given this substance’s harmful effects on humans, it begs the question, why was it so popular in the rail industry? Well, it all boils down to its inherent properties. For one thing, asbestos is an excellent insulator. It is also durable and flexible, and perhaps the most significant reason why it was so popular is that it was incredibly cheap.

When Was It Discovered That Asbestos Was  Dangerous?

You would think that the first adverse effects of asbestos were noted a few years before it was banned in the 1980s, right? Ironically, researchers discovered this product’s toxic effects over a century ago.

 In fact, by 1935, the Association of American Railroads, a railroad industry trade group,  had formally identified asbestos as a toxic substance with adverse effects on human health. Similarly, railroads knew of its carcinogenic nature by 1958 and, by 1960,  medical reports concluded that it caused mesothelioma.

What Did the Railroad Companies Do?

By the time researchers discovered the negative aspects of asbestos, it had already heavily penetrated the rail industry. Rail companies were resistant to using more expensive but safer alternatives.

 These corporations decided to choose profits over the well-being of workers. Consequently, many workers were exposed to asbestos and suffered its life-threatening effects such as cancer and mesothelioma.

 Ironically, these railroad companies did little to protect workers. Companies did not timely introduce personal protective equipment, and it was not until the 1980s that many railroads finally decided to ban the purchase of asbestos products in the rail industry.

The Legal Route for Exposed Workers

What is the way forward for rail workers that have suffered from asbestos exposure? Individuals diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related cancers and illnesses can file a personal injury claim or a trust fund claim, says attorney Christopher Murphy of Doran & Murphy, PLLC.

 Moreover, families that have lost a loved one due to asbestos exposure can also file a wrongful death claim. They can file a lawsuit against the railroad company and any responsible asbestos product manufacturer.

If you or a loved one want to discuss a claim under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) or against any asbestos product manufacturer, please call Doran and Murphy PLLC today for a free consultation.  Compensation can be paid for medical expenses, lost wages, and any pain and suffering caused by cancer and disease. 

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