Railroad workers are at risk of exposure to benzene, a dangerous chemical that is widely recognized as causing health problems including cancer. These workers go to work faithfully every day to support their families and to help keep commerce moving in this country. However, over the course of years and sometimes decades, these workers have been exposed to toxic killers that cause cancer in many forms, including Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), and Lymphoma. Most of the time, these individuals have no idea that their cancer was caused due to on-the-job exposure.
Several decades ago, the federal government named benzene a hazardous air pollutant based on evidence suggesting that exposure to the chemical was linked to certain cancers, particularly leukemia. Since then, studies have consistently proven that benzene is carcinogenic. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have determined that Benzene is a known carcinogen. Despite this knowledge, benzene is one of the most commonly used industrial chemicals.
Railroad workers are especially susceptible to suffer the harmful effects of benzene as a result of diesel fumes and solvent exposure. Diesel fuel fumes are inhaled in dangerous amounts by railroad workers across the nation. Benzene has also been widely used as a solvent, especially for the purposes of degreasing locomotives. Benzene has high toxicity whether it is absorbed through the skin or inhaled. It has also been revealed that that exposure to these fumes and chemicals may cause bladder, colon, kidney, esophageal, lung, and naso-pharyngeal cancers.
The Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) is a federal law that was passed by Congress in 1908 to protect railroad workers in the event of work-related injury or illness. This law was born after countless railroad workers suffered serious or fatal injuries during the course of their labor. At that time, no clear-cut laws protected the rights of injured railroad workers and assisted them in seeking compensation for their medical expenses, lost wages, disability, pain and suffering, and other losses.
In the 44 years following the enactment of FELA, 26 bills were introduced in Congress to replace FELA with workers’ compensation. Unlike worker’s compensation, the FELA entitles a worker to a jury trial and damages for pain, suffering, and emotional distress. Congress has refused in each instance to make this change. These attacks on the FELA continue. Thus far, in each instance, the efforts have been rebuffed by Congress.
It is very important for railroad (and all workers) to know the risks involved to their health and safety in the workplace due to exposure to toxic chemicals such as benzene. It is also important that these workers be provided with the proper legal options to receive fair and just compensation for the negligence of others. We certainly applaud the government’s efforts in keeping FELA intact and available to the many dedicated and hard-working railroad employees throughout this country. If you need additional information on this subject contact John Tomlinson, a lawyer in our Toxic Torts Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at John.Tomlinson@beasleyallen.com.
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