Railroad workers are regularly exposed to benzene, a highly-toxic gas produced by diesel fumes and exhaust. Exposure is associated with Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), also known as “pre-leukemia.”
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Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS) is a type of cancer that damages bone marrow and causes problems with making new blood cells. About 33% of people with MDS develop an aggressive bone cancer called Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML).
MDS From Benzene Exposure
Benzene is an extremely toxic, carcinogenic chemical that is known to cause MDS and many other health problems. Benzene is absorbed into the body through the skin or the lungs. The risk increases with higher exposures, but even low-level exposure can cause MDS.
Railroad Workers and MDS
Railroad workers have higher rates of cancer because they are frequently exposed to benzene, toxic chemicals, radiation, and carcinogens. Most exposures occur by breathing diesel exhaust and using chemical solvents for degreasing engines.
What is the problem?
The problem is that many railroads did not take steps to protect workers from diesel exhaust. It was not until recent years that they began requiring high-efficiency air filters, engine retrofits, and shutting down engines after 10 minutes to limit diesel exhaust.
Symptoms of MDS
- Infections (skin, sinus, lung, urinary tract, etc.)
- Spontaneous bleeding
- Easy bruising
- Anemia (low red blood cell count)
- Neutropenia (low white blood cell count)
- Shortness of breath
- Pale skin
Railroad companies are obligated to provide a safe work environment for their employees. When they fail to meet these obligations, workers who are injured can file lawsuits under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA). Unlike typical workers compensation claims, there is no cap on damages in FELA lawsuits. On average, payouts are higher because railroad injuries are usually more severe than typical workers.
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