Railroad Exposure & Asbestos
History & Background
The railroad has been one of the major advances that helped America expand across the entire continent. In the past century it has slowly been surpassed by air travel and interstate highways yet it is still an integral part of America's economy, transporting resources and passengers.
Until the 1950s most trains were powered through the steam engine, which creates as a byproduct an incredible amount of heat and energy. In an effort to insulate and protect against this heat, the trains and engines were constructed and insulated with asbestos, a natural mineral that is very strong as well as heat and fire-resistant. During the 1950s the steam engine was slowly replaced by diesel trains.
Asbestos was still used on these new trains until the mid 1970s when the dangers associated with exposure became known. Relatively unknown until that time, exposure to asbestos dust can cause harmful pulmonary diseases as discussed below.
How Were Railroad Workers Exposed?
Asbestos was widely used on and around trains from the early part of the twentieth century on into the 1960s and 1970s. Its main function was as a form of insulation, or lagging that was attached to the steam engine boilers, fireboxes, and piping systems (one example of high-temperature pipe insulation that contained asbestos is 'Johns-Manville Therma-Wrap').
It was also used to insulate boxcars and cabooses and was a covering for wallboards in order to protect them from heat and fire. Asbestos was also combined with other products to create sealing cement and gaskets that were used to seal pipe joints and valves. Even cloth packing and rope could contain asbestos. Floor tiles were also made with asbestos, as were brake linings and clutches as it made these products heat resistant and extremely strong.
All men and women who worked around steam locomotives or in roundhouses, backshops or repair facilities could have been exposed to asbestos dust in the air. This was due to the fact that the asbestos insulation would have to be cut and stretched in order to be put in place, the process of which would get microscopic dust particles in the air. Often the gaskets and cement used to seal joints would need to be sanded or grinded down, again putting dangerous dust in the air.
Maintenance men and inspectors were also exposed because when the locomotives were inspected, the insulation was removed and then re-applied creating a hazardous dust-filled environment. Even if a worker did not work directly on or with asbestos products they are still at risk because the dust would be everywhere.
Railroad Workers & Asbestos Diseases
For many years, the dangers of working with asbestos were not properly disclosed by asbestos companies. Many blue collar workers, including railroad workers, came in direct contact with asbestos on a daily basis and did not wear the necessary protective equipment to prevent harmful exposure.
Unfortunately, the symptoms associated an asbestos-related disease, like mesothelioma, can take as many as thirty to forty years to begin to appear. As a result, signs of mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases like lung cancer or asbestosis do not begin to show up for workers until they are in their retirement years, long after asbestos exposure first occurred.
Contact George & Farinas, LLP, a firm with proven results. We can help you file a claim if you or a loved one have suffered the devastating effects of asbestos exposure from a railroad site.