Railroad Workers and Asbestos
THE AGE OF STEAM: Railroads have had a long history of using asbestos and asbestos-containing products. During the age of steam locomotives, the boilers on the locomotives were covered with as much 6,000 pounds of asbestos insulation material. Asbestos gaskets, refractory products, and thermal insulation were also extensively used on locomotives during the steam era. Often repairs on the locomotives were performed in the roundhouse where workers in other crafts were often exposed to the airborne asbestos fibers.
THE AGE OF DIESEL: Although diesel locomotives ultimately replaced the steam locomotives, many asbestos-containing products continued to be used on diesel locomotives as well. In fact, well into the 1990s, thousands of locomotives were still in service with asbestos-containing materal still on them.
Manufacturers of diesel locomotives, including General Motors Electro-Motive Division (EMD) and General Electric have acknowledged that asbestos-containing materials continued to be installed on their diesel locomotives until the 1980s. (See Letter from EMD Re Asbestos on Locomotives (9-1-1992) and Ltr from GE Re Asbestos on Locomotives (8-20-1992)). Likewise, many of the major railroads did not begin removing these asbestos-containing materials from their locomotives until the mid-1990s.
RAILROAD INDUSTRY KNOWLEDGE REGARDING THE HAZARDS OF ASBESTOS
Although the railroad industry was one of the last major purchasers of asbestos containing products, they were also one of the first industries to recognize the potential hazards associated with occupational exposure to the substance. Historic documents reveal that the chief medical officers of many of the major railroads discussed the hazards and prevention of asbestos related disease as early as the 1930s. Sadly, these fears were not relayed to the workers. In fact, at least one railroad suggested that recommendations regarding prevention of exposure to asbestos be limited to management employees "so as to avoid the making claims."
Despite this early knowledge, documents produced in litigation reveal that as late as the 1980s railroads continued to purchase many different asbestos containing products. Among the various asbestos-containing products identified as being used by the railroad industry include asbestos raw mud, lagging, sheeting, insulation block, various sizes and types of packing materials, millboard, gaskets, floor tile, paint, transite pipe, pipe covering and block, finishing, fire proofing and insulating cements, firebrick, friction brake lining, locomotive and freight car brake shoes, steam hose, cloth, listing tape, roofing materials, welding gloves, fire blankets, spark shields, and associated equipment.
For additional information regarding railroad workers and asbestos exposure click on the following links:
- Asbestos Trust Claims;
- Railroad Workers at Risk for Mesothelioma, Lung Cancer and Other Asbestos-Related Diseases;
- Asbestos In Railroad Locomotives, Equipment & Buildings; and
- Asbestos At Union Pacific Railroad's Shops in Omaha, Nebraska
- New Study on Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma
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