Exposure to Diesel Fumes

Exposure to diesel fumes presents serious risks to railroad workers – the risk of developing pulmonary (lung), brain, and other-organ disorders, including cancer. The link between exposure to diesel fumes (also known as diesel smoke or diesel exhaust) and serious medical problems has been well established for decades and is well known to the railroad industry.

Dangerous Chemicals in Diesel

Diesel fuel is comprised of hundreds of chemicals, many of which are carcinogens (i.e., cancer-causing agents) and/or toxic in other ways. Some of the better-known chemicals in diesel fuel are:

  • carbon monoxide
  • carbon dioxide
  • nitric oxide
  • nitrogen dioxide
  • sulfur oxides
  • hydrocarbons

Medical Problems Linked to Diesel

When diesel fuel is burned – and nearly all trains today burn diesel as fuel – the chemical makeup of the fuel changes it to a gas/fumes state made of particulates that can penetrate the farthest inner reaches of the lungs, initiating disorders such as:

  • asthma (particularly a condition known as “diesel asthma”) and aggravated asthma
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which can take a variety of forms
  • lung cancer
  • brain tumors

The EPA and OSHA Are Concerned about Diesel

In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed in 2002 that long-term exposure to diesel exhaust is linked to lung cancer, noting that “Overall, the evidence for a potential cancer hazard to humans resulting from chronic inhalation exposure to [diesel emissions] is persuasive.” In 2008, the EPA issued new regulations to limit locomotives’ diesel exhaust.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health also recommended that diesel exhaust be considered a potential occupational carcinogen as defined by OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration).

Many Railroad Workers Are Vulnerable

Essentially all railroad workers are vulnerable to the dangers of diesel fumes exposure, but the jobs most likely to provide too-great exposure to diesel are:

  • engineer
  • diesel engine and locomotive repair shop workers
  • switchman
  • brakeman
  • carman
  • conductor
  • car repair workers

In some railroad jobs, exposure to diesel fumes is unavoidable. Hour after hour on the job, a railroad worker may inhale a great deal of diesel exhaust, and it’s not surprising that such a high level of exposure to a noxious material would result in disease.

Diesel Exposure and FELA

Railroad workers with diesel-related illnesses can file a claim for damages under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA), which was implemented in part to help workers with exactly such work-caused injuries. If a potential diesel exposure-related illness has befallen you or your family member, contact a FELA lawyer to schedule a free consultation and discuss your concerns.