Mesothelioma, Asbestos Diseases, & Cancers

Because of the railroad industry’s widespread use of asbestos in the 20th century and the fact that symptoms may not appear for 20 to 50 years, mesothelioma diagnoses are common among railroad workers. Railroad and FELA attorneys can still make claims for railroad workers diagnosed with mesothelioma and other diseases caused by exposure to asbestos.

Asbestos was a common component of insulation on mains, pipes, boilers, brakes, gaskets, and in the electrical and heat insulation in the walls, ceilings, and flooring of railroad cars.

Exposure to asbestos occurred from many sources, including but not limited to:

Steam Locomotives/Boilers

One of the most dangerous asbestos sources causing cancers and asbestos is the insulating materials used on steam locomotives. Many railroads used steam locomotives well into the 1960's. Steam locomotives were loaded with asbestos, on both the exterior of the engine and inside the engine cab. Asbestos insulation called “lagging” or magnesium, large insulating blankets of pure asbestos, covered the outside of steam locomotives.

Asbestos insulation surrounded boilers on steam locomotives as well. The steam pipes were covered with asbestos insulation or insulating tape.Firemen and other workers needed to keep the fire going by feeding coal into the engine “firebox,” also insulated with asbestos. Jostling and vibrations from the regular use of the locomotives would shake fibers free and release them into the air. The lack of ventilation in the locomotives would circulate the asbestos fibers throughout the cabs, compounding the problem. Even though these microscopic fibers were not visible, they were deadly. Mesothelioma develops slowly, over decades, so railroad workers exposed to these fibers are still being diagnosed.

These asbestos products were sold by companies like Johns-Manville and others that are now bankrupt or have changed names.

Before the transition to diesel locomotives, every railroad employee who worked on, repaired, maintained, or encountered locomotives had a significant chance of frequent asbestos exposure.

Diesel Locomotives

Contrary to information promoted by railroads, the end of the steam engine era did not end the asbestos era for railroad locomotives. Many gaskets were made of asbestos, fibers of which would shed from the gaskets into the air.Parts of the engines, radios, and insulation all contained asbestos. Some railroads continued to use diesel locomotives that contained asbestos into the 1990's.

Roundhouses and Railroad Shop

Workers in and near roundhouses and shops came in frequent, if not constant, contact with large amounts of asbestos, where insulation, gaskets, brakes, pipes, and many other items were dismantled and installed. Typically, sheets of asbestos would be brought into the roundhouses and workers would cut, shave, and manipulate them for their intended use. Repairs of locomotives and railroad cars caused stripping of asbestos. The dangers of asbestos exposure increased because it occurred in enclosed areas with poor ventilation. The constant disturbance of asbestos products resulted in the release of immeasurable asbestos fibers into the air, which were then inhaled by railroad workers in or near roundhouses and shops. These dangerous practices continued well into the 1960's. Despite the high use of asbestos — and the railroad industry’s knowledge of the hazards since the 1930's — the railroads did not inform their workers of the dangers or provide respiratory equipment, ventilation, or other basic safety measures.Because of the high use of and exposure to released asbestos, roundhouse and shop workers experience some of the highest rates of asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestos-induced lung diseases, asbestosis, and asbestos cancers.

Brake Shoes

Asbestos is cheap, extremely durable, and very effective in high friction and heat situations. This made asbestos particularly attractive for use in railroad brakes. Some railroads used asbestos in brake shoes well into the 1990's. The friction and grinding of basic use, as well as jostling and scraping when replacing brake shoes, released heavy amounts of asbestos fibers into the air.

Other Sources of Railroad Employee Exposure

Railroad workers and contractors were exposed to asbestos in many other ways. Cabooses contained large amounts of asbestos in their ceilings and floors, as did brakes. Rail cars, especially refrigeration cars, were insulated with asbestos. Asbestos was used in yard offices and other railroad buildings, as well as steam pipes. Railroad workers even encountered asbestos in bunks, housing and hotels. Many spouses were exposed when their husbands unknowingly brought asbestos into the home on their clothes.

Already in the 1930's, railroad executives knew that asbestos was a problem and that simple measures could be taken to reduce exposure. However, for decades railroad companies did nothing to abate, warn workers, or even provide simple safety measures to reduce their workers’ exposure to asbestos.

Asbestos diseases are horrific and often deadly, particularly cancers such as mesothelioma. The experienced railroad asbestos attorneys of Bolt Hoffer Boyd can obtain compensation for:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Fear of death
  • Medical and funeral expenses
  • Pecuniary losses, such as benefits and wage capacity

Claims against railroads under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) must be brought within three years of when the worker knew or should have known that the occupational disease/wrongful death was caused or may have been caused by exposure to asbestos while working for a railroad. Claims against manufacturers and other providers of asbestos may have different statutes, as will claims for spouses and non-railroad employees.

No two asbestos or mesothelioma cases are alike. Trust the knowledgeable railroad attorneys of Bolt Hoffer Boyd for personalized, comprehensive representation. We’ll handle your case with care and commitment to achieve the best possible outcome.

Contact us today to schedule your initial consultation.


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