Chemical Solvent Exposure Claims by Railroad Workers

If you were injured due to someone else's negligence, you may be entitled to significant compensation. Contact one of our experienced lawyers at (757) 244-7000 for legal advice and representation.

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Railroads are dangerous places. Workers face the risk of injuries from derailments, being hit by trains, and slip-and-falls on ballast. Employees of the big railroads, whether Norfolk Southern, CSX, or Union Pacific also face exposure to toxic substances and chemicals that can permanently damage their health and result in chemical solvent exposure claims by railroad workers.

In the past, railroad workers were exposed to asbestos. While this deadly material has been predominantly removed from railroads after it was linked to the cancer mesothelioma, workers are exposed to other dangerous chemicals.

Chemicals used as degreasers for cleaning trains and other solvents are extremely toxic to workers. Diesel, coal dust, creosote and other substances may harm workers. Trains often carry toxic chemicals and workers risk exposure to substances like chlorine when trains derail.

At the Smith Law Center, our attorneys help railroad workers to make chemical solvent exposure claims under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). We represent people whose health was damaged by a wide range of chemicals including pesticides and weed killers.

Chemical Dangers on the Railroad

Workers on the railroad are exposed to many different chemicals that can harm their health and their livelihoods. They include:


Railroad workers may be periodically exposed to the chemical benzene in diesel fumes from locomotives and in degreasing solvents used by the railroads.

Benzene is a dangerous hydrocarbon chemical that can cause cancer. It has been highlighted as carcinogenic by the Department of Health and Human Services, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The use of benzene is heavily regulated in the United States because of the cancer risk. However, many products containing benzene remain on the railroads, exposing workers to a substantial railroad cancer risk. The chemical is linked to diseases including kidney cancer, stomach cancer, mesothelioma, leukemia, and many others.

Hydrocarbons and Solvents

Railroad workers may fall ill from exposure to hydrocarbons and solvent mixtures. Workers can develop peripheral neuritis from these products.

This disorder involves an inflammation of the workers’ arms and legs. The fumes given off by these substances are toxic and may cause very serious conditions like brain damage.

Exposure to solvents is a leading cause of toxic encephalopathy. Small quantities of the chemicals may be transported through the bloodstream of a railroad worker into his or her brain where they can cause permanent brain damage. Symptoms like fatigue, memory loss, and difficulty concentrating may be mistaken for aging.

Diesel Fumes

A study in 2010 suggested long-term exposure to diesel fumes from railroad locomotives’ exhaust increases the risk of lung cancer. A worker who has many years of on-the-job exposure to diesel fume particles is at a 300 percent plus risk of contracting lung cancer from the railroad compared to the general population.

Railroad workers may not develop serious symptoms until years after exposure to dangerous chemicals occurred.

Coal Dust

Coal dust is linked to lung cancer and may be a concern for both railroad workers and communities living near coal trains. Residents of Lambert’s Point in Norfolk have fought a long-running battle with Norfolk Southern over a coal exporting facility.

Research in 2013 by Melissa Ahern of Washington State University found people in coal mining communities suffer elevated rates of hospitalization for high blood pressure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorders.


Many railroad workers have been exposed to lead. The railroad industry is one of the heaviest users or lead and workers may contract various illnesses if they are exposed to the metal. Lead poisoning causes damage to the nervous system leading to symptoms like the inability to sleep, hallucinations, and tremors.


Asbestos was widely used on the railroads.  Asbestos insulation was a favored material used on steam engines due to its relatively cheap cost and heat-resistant properties. Asbestos continued to be used when diesel replaced steam in the 1950s. In the 1970s when the link between asbestos and cancer was found, the railroad stopped using the material. However, asbestos continues to show up on the railroad.

Asbestos was used in boilers, pipes and fireboxes. Because asbestos containing materials were so common on trains, even railroad workers who weren’t responsible for repairs of these parts may have been exposed to asbestos. Asbestos causes mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer in the thin layer of treatment around the lungs. There is no cure for mesothelioma.

Workers Can Suffer Chemical Exposure During Railroad Accidents

As well as the chemicals and substances railroad workers are routinely exposed to in their jobs, they are at risk from hazardous substances that may leak from trains during derailments or other accidents.

A combination of an aging rail infrastructure and known weaknesses and defects on a commonly used tanker car, result in derailments on the railroad. Trains carrying crude oil have exploded in cities like Lynchburg in Virginia. Railroad workers, first responders and people living in communities near railroads have been exposed to chemical fumes.

In 2005, a Norfolk Southern freight train crash led to a deadly chlorine leak in Graniteville, South Carolina that killed nine people and injured many more.

Chlorine is just one of many hazardous substances that are transported on trains. When accidents happen on the railroad, workers are on the front line. Many other hazardous chemicals are transported on trains. Many of these have a HAZMAT classification.

The Leading HAZMAT Dangers Railroad Workers Are Exposed To

When trains derail, workers nearby may be exposed to:

  • Xylene
  • Arsenic
  • Ethyl Benzene
  • Trichloroethene
  • Methylene Chloride
  • Pentachlorophenol (PCPs)
  • Acids and corrosive substances

A culture of secrecy is inherent in the railroad industry. In some cases, first responders have not been aware of the chemicals released at a crash scene.

How to Make a Railroad Chemical Solvent Exposure Claim

Railroad workers do demanding and stressful jobs. They may initially discount symptoms or not link them to exposure to chemicals. If you have concerns that you have been exposed to toxic chemicals or substances, you should talk to a railroad worker accident lawyer as soon as possible.

The attorneys at the Smith Law Center have been helping the injured since 1949 and have represented railroad workers with terrible injuries and illnesses. Please contact us for a consultation.

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