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Chemical Solvent Exposure Claims by Railroad Workers

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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If you or a relative had a severe reaction to military housing mold, it might be time to talk with a toxic mold lawyer. Mold is everywhere, and can be dangerous. Researchers have linked mold to serious respiratory illnesses in some individuals.

Smith Law Center may be able to help if a property owner failed to keep you safe from mold in your military housing. We are one of Virginia’s oldest and most successful firms. We know how to hold negligent property owners responsible, especially when the military is involved.

Call us at (757) 244-700 or contact us online to set up a free consultation. There’s no fee for learning more about Virginia mold laws, your rights, and your legal options.

Mold in Military Housing

Black mold in military housing became widely known when Reuters published an investigation in 2018. Since then, the Department of Defense and the housing providers were supposed to take steps to improve the situation.

Unfortunately, a 2020 audit by the DoD Office of Inspector General found many issues, including the need for mold remediation, still persist.

Monetary Awards in Military Housing Toxic Mold Cases

If the property owner lets toxic mold run wild and continue to cause you harm, talk with our toxic mold attorneys about filing a lawsuit.

You may receive financial compensation for:

Service members and their families do not receive different types of damages than civilians. These are civil lawsuits in traditional courts of law.

Military Housing Mold Toxicity Symptoms

The Institute of Medicine discovered there was evidence connecting exposure to indoor mold with:

  • Upper respiratory tract symptoms;
  • Coughing;
  • Wheezing;
  • Asthma symptoms in individuals with asthma; and
  • Hypersensitivity pneumonitis in individuals with weak immune systems.

There is also limited evidence that mold causes respiratory illnesses in healthy children or causes people to develop asthma.

Understanding Exposure to Toxic Mold in Military Housing

The topic of toxic mold is complicated. This Is in part because the term “toxic mold” isn’t accurate. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains mold isn’t toxic or poisonous. However, some molds are toxigenic, which means they produce toxins called mycotoxins.

Mold is common in military housing because it’ll grow anywhere there’s moisture. That includes on and inside walls, carpet, upholstery, wallpaper, and heating and air conditioning systems. This is especially pronounced in humid conditions such as those present in Virginia.

Some people have no difficulties around mold, even large infestations in their homes. Other individuals are sensitive to molds, including those that produce mycotoxins. Someone can have a severe reaction when exposed to a large amount of mold indoors.

People may be more likely to experience mold toxicity symptoms if they have:

  • Allergies,
  • An underlying lung disease,
  • Immune suppression,
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder,
  • Asthma, or
  • Another chronic respiratory disease.

Common Types of Military Housing Mold

When you’re trying to learn more from the CDC and other resources, you’ll see the word “fungus” a lot. Mold is a type of fungus, which is something that exists all around us. Fungi are living organisms different from animals, plants, and bacteria. There are over 200,000 types of fungi and over 100,000 types of molds.

If you discovered mold in your military housing, it could be Cladosporium, Penicillium, Stachybotrys chartarum, Aspergillus, or many other types. Stachybotrys is what everyone knows as black mold. Aspergillus is a common indoor fungus, which releases mycotoxins and can cause illness. Your symptoms may resemble common allergy or asthma symptoms.

Who is Liable for Military Housing Mold?

Since 1996, most military housing has come under the management of private companies:

  • Belfour Beatty Communities: Fort Eustis and Fort Story/li>
  • Lincoln Military Housing: Dahlgren, Little Creek, Naval Station Norfolk, Northwest Annex, Oceana, Portsmouth, Quantico, and Yorktown/li>
  • Hunt Military Communities: Fort Lee and Langley AFB

Outside of Virginia, Lendlease and Corvias Military Living are two more housing providers. Together, these five companies formed the Military Housing Association.

Military families living in on-base housing must take their complaints to their private management company — not the military. The company is responsible for providing habitable conditions and making repairs, including mold remediation.

If you’re unsure about your rights, review your state law and local ordinances about mold. In general, it’s the landlord’s responsibility to provide a habitable unit, which means it has to be safe to live in. A unit isn’t safe if it’s causing a tenant health issues due to mold.

The Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act requires landlords to disclose if there’s mold in the written report of the move-in inspection. If a tenant discovers visible mold in the unit, then the Act requires the landlord to remove the mold and relocate the tenant until it’s gone at no additional cost to the tenant.

Unfortunately, many families find their housing providers aren’t receptive to complaints. Attorney Stephen M. Smith has handled many mold lawsuits against military housing providers who fail to abide by their lease terms and the law when it comes to mold remediation and other hazards.

Other Hazards in Military Housing

Many service members and their families deal with uncomfortable, if not hazardous, conditions in privatized military housing, including:

Lead Paint: Lead-based paint can cause headaches, nausea, fatigue, irritability, behavioral problems, learning disabilities, seizures, organ damage, and in extreme cases, death.

Asbestos: Exposure to asbestos harms a person’s lungs, and can lead to lung fibrosis (scarring), lung cancer, and mesothelioma.

Radon: Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. It naturally forms underground, however cracks and gaps in buildings lead to over-exposure indoors.

Poor Water Quality: Dozens of military sites have water with detectable levels of harmful chemicals.

Other issues involve rodent or insect infestations, pesticides, and faulty electrical wiring.

What Happens When a Lot of People Get Sick?

Sometimes mold exposure impacts a single individual or family. However, when the mold spreads throughout military housing, it can impact hundreds or thousands of people.

Occasionally, a large enough group of people are injured to allow for a class action or mass tort lawsuit. A class action lawsuit is one where a class representative acts as the plaintiff on behalf of the group of hurt individuals. Not every victim participates in the lawsuit. There are rules about when a group is big and similar enough to create a class action.

Mass tort lawsuits are different. When there are fewer plaintiffs who have their own set of circumstances, each person files a lawsuit. For efficiency’s sake, one or a couple of law firms may represent most plaintiffs, and the lawsuits are consolidated in a federal court.

Call the Military Housing Mold Lawyers at Smith Law Center for Help Right Away

Mold cases come about in a few ways. You or a loved one may start getting sick, and after weeks or months of struggling to find answers, you finally realize your military housing has a mold infestation. In other cases, you struggle with visible mold and then become ill.

Once you connect the illness with the mold, it’s time to talk with a toxic mold lawyer. Reaching out to an attorney early helps you build a strong compensation claim. We know how to collect evidence, identify who is liable, and craft a successful argument for a settlement or court award.

Attorney Stephen M. Smith has decades of experience handling injury claims and has been internationally recognized for his work. He has litigated cases involving catastrophic injuries and complex legal and scientific issues. In 2019, he was inducted into the Virginia Lawyers Hall of Fame.

You’re in good hands when you come to Smith Law Center for help. Reach out online or call (757) 244-7000 to schedule your 100% free consultation.

Military Housing Mold Lawsuits: FAQs

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