A dozen railroad workers are suing Union Pacific Railroad in an Omaha, Nebraska, federal court, alleging their work on trains, railyards, company shops, and tracks exposed them to cancer-causing substances in violation of federal law.
The plaintiffs, all former Union Pacific employees or their estates, allege that the railroad was negligent in its failure to use “ordinary care or caution” with toxic substances in the workplace as required by federal regulations. They also claim Union Pacific failed to monitor and test its work sites for toxic substances that could sicken workers, according to the Omaha World-Herald.
Union Pacific, the second-largest freight train line in the U.S., is based in Omaha. The plaintiffs worked for the railroad in Nebraska and five other states for various lengths of time, starting in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.
According to the Omaha World-Herald, the lawsuits claim Union Pacific exposed the workers to hazardous materials, including “diesel fuel/exhaust, benzene, creosote, manganese and rock/mineral dust and fibers.”
A growing body of evidence has linked diesel fumes to serious human health hazards. A recent Harvard study found evidence that truck drivers and other workers routinely exposed to diesel exhaust on the job were at a drastically higher risk of developing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), an incurable neurodegenerative disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Exposure to benzene over the long-term puts workers at a high risk of anemia and other, more serious blood diseases, such as acute myeloid leukemia (AML), lymphocytic leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and multiple myeloma.
According to the lawsuits, the Union Pacific workers contracted a multitude of cancers, including lymphoma, pancreatic cancer, and cancer of the head and neck.
The plaintiffs allege that Union Pacific violated the Federal Employers Liability Act, which was enacted in 1908 to protect and compensate railroad workers injured on the job if the worker can prove that the railroad was at least partly negligent in causing the injury.