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Railroad Workers and Residents Near Rail Yards Face Higher Cancer Risk

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  • Railroad Workers and Residents Near Rail Yards Face Higher Cancer Risk

    The Environmental Protection Agency listed diesel exhaust fumes as a likely carcinogen and says pollutants in diesel lead “to serious public health problems” including lung disease, asthma, chronic bronchitis, and even deadly forms of cancer.

    Railroad workers can be exposed to these potentially hazardous diesel exhaust fumes for hours on end, sometimes every day of the work week. Our firm has been following the potential connection between asthma problems and exposure to diesel fumes in railroad work along with potentially developing bladder cancer.

    Unfortunately, the risks associated with diesel exhaust and other fumes may not be confined to the rail yards. The residents living near these rail yards are potentially at an increased risk of developing the same health problems as railroad workers. For example, residents within a half mile of the Cicero rail yard and other Chicago area rail yards could suffer a cancer risk more than 10 times higher on average than people four miles away, according to the United Transportation Union.

    A study in 2005 indicated residents within a half mile of rail yards could face a cancer risk of 50 to 250 in 1 million people, with bigger yards leading to bigger risks. You might be thinking, “50 out of one million isn’t that bad.” Well, the residents who lived four miles away from the rail yard saw their chances of developing cancer drop to less than 10 in one million. This means residents within a half mile of rail yards had cancer risks five to 25 times greater than those four miles away.

    A report called “Smokestacks on Rails,” estimated that locomotive emissions would be responsible for more than 3,000 premature deaths, over 4,000 non-fatal heart attacks, and over 60,000 cases of acute bronchitis and “exacerbated asthma” in children across the country.

    “There’s no safe limit for particles,” said L. Bruce Hill, who works for the Clean Air Task Force. “Particulate is the most hazardous common pollutant in the air, and diesel trains, buses and trucks really release it where you breathe it.”

    Are railroad companies like CSX and Norfolk Southern making this a top priority? Not really. In fact, many railroad officials defend their emissions. For example, a Burlington Northern Santa Fe representative said they “move more tonnage than any other source and have the smallest percentage of emissions.” What these officials fail to realize is that car and truck emissions are spread across the country on highways and roads. The residents living near rail yards and railroad workers receive a concentrated, consistent dose of these emissions on the regular basis. As the studies mentioned above indicate, this level of exposure may be causing some serious health problems and railroad companies need to form a new strategy to address it.

    I wrote an article about ways to reduce long-term diesel exhaust fumes for railroad workers and the EPA has taken steps to regulate idle emissions from locomotive trains. But it’s clear more needs to be done and we could expedite solving this issue if the railroads would actually make a conscious effort to make the safety and health of railroad workers, and the communities surrounding their rail yards, priority number one.

    About Us: Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton FELA/Railroad Injury Attorneys have authored hundreds of railroad and FELA articles on our main website, and have over 100 years combined injury law experience. Firm attorneys included among “The Best Lawyers in America” 2010 Edition and the law firm has the highest rating (AV) granted by Martindale-Hubbell attorney rating service.

  • #2
    It does seem...

    That our group gets a lot more than it's share of cancer and heart attacks over the years. How is it that nobody has looked into this?