Many health and cancer risks posed by working on and around trains are well-known. No one doubts that railroad employees continue to develop deadly cases of mesothelioma after breathing in asbestos fibers. On-the-job exposures to diesel fumes and radiation are increasingly recognized as the causes of wrongful deaths among rail workers. Even particulates from cargo like coal and sand have been linked to debilitating occupational illnesses.
It may not come as a surprise, then, that medical researchers and workplace safety experts regularly uncover previously unknown and ignored dangers for locomotive engineers, train conductors, trackmen, brakemen, and rail yard crew members. One such analysis that a fellow Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) attorney alerted me to is a study that highlighted a link between long-term exposures to extremely low-frequency electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and two specific forms of cancer.
Writing in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine (OEM), researchers who analyzed the health records of a large group of retired Swiss railway workers discovered strong correlations between EMF exposures and myeloid leukemia, a blood cancer, and Hodgkin’s lymphoma/Hodgkin’s disease. EMFs are generated by all electronic devices, including computers, radios, and electric motors. Present-day engineers, who spend long shifts in locomotive cabs filled with such equipment, experience chronic EMF exposure in the same way that, a few decades ago, old dirty diesel engines filled engineers’ lungs with harmful smoke.
This OEM report is just one study, but the results provide strong evidence that rail corporations like Amtrak, CSX and Norfolk Southern should look into ways to limit train crews’ exposure to low-frequency electromagnetic fields. Shorter shifts, more-frequent crew changes and shielding electronic gear with EMF-absorbing materials could do much to protect railroad workers from cancer. As a railroad injury lawyer who has helped dozens of rail employees who suffered during retirement because their employers were negligent in reducing health hazards, I know that even small steps to limit exposures to cancer-causing agents can yield enormous benefits.