Before cars were the predominant method of transportation, people relied heavily on railroads to move from one city to the next. In the late 1800s, the railroads were essential for transporting supplies like fuel, food, and building materials. Railroad workers played a vital role in the growth of the American economy and the birth of new cities. They worked to build, maintain, and repair thousands of miles of railroad tracks and the trains that traveled on them day after day. Engine men were tasked with operating the trains, working the brakes and switches, and keeping transportation running for those who depended on it most. Unfortunately, many of those engine men were exposed to asbestos, a material that was frequently used in train components throughout the 20th Century. Even brief exposure to asbestos can create serious health complications. While it may take decades for symptoms to appear, engine men face a high risk for lung cancer and mesothelioma.
Engine Men and Asbestos Exposure
Engine men were likely exposed to asbestos in several different ways. In the early to mid-1900s, many train parts contained asbestos because of its heat resistant qualities. Both steam and diesel trains contained asbestos around the engine, in boilers, and even under the body of the train itself. Asbestos parts were used to cover pipes, line electric panels, and insulate boxcars and driving cabins. It was even used in railroad shops. The many parts that engine men worked with on a daily basis were made with asbestos. From brake pads and linings to clutches and gaskets, asbestos was practically everywhere and engine men were hard pressed to avoid exposure.
For many years, people had no idea asbestos was dangerous. Engine men would cut and sand asbestos components, sending a cloud of dangerous particles into the air. With each breath, an engine man was filling his lungs with tiny asbestos fibers that would cause chronic inflammation and scarring. Over time, this led many to develop serious diseases and mesothelioma cancer.
Studies of the Link Between Railroad Workers and Mesothelioma
Many studies have evaluated the link between railroad workers and mesothelioma. One study showed that engine men and other railroad workers were three times more likely to be diagnosed with lung cancer. Another study found that engine men working on steam locomotives faced the highest risk for asbestos exposure. Surveys of people who worked on the railroad in the 1980s revealed that 21 percent of workers over age 50 had been exposed to asbestos, with average exposure times of three years.
Asbestos Lawsuits Filed by Engine Men
Since railroad workers do not have access to any type of worker’s compensation benefits, those who are injured rely on lawsuits to get compensation. Many former railroad workers and their families have pursued lawsuits against rail companies after developing asbestos-related diseases. One of the most notorious cases was in 2003 when six former rail workers from Norfolk and Western Railway Company sued and were awarded $4.9 million in the final judgment. The six workers accused the rail company of exposing them to asbestos in a number of ways. Each one received compensation that was based on the amount of time they were exposed.
If you worked as an engine man and believe you were exposed to asbestos, it’s important to inform your doctor. Sharing that information can help you receive a better diagnosis if you become sick with an asbestos-related illness. If you’ve already received a diagnosis and believe your mesothelioma, lung cancer, or other asbestos-related disease is due to asbestos exposure in the workplace, speak with a lawyer about your options.