Survivors Book

Locomotive Engineers - Mesothelioma Risks

Asbestos was for years thought of as a miracle material, used as an insulator, building material, and fireproofing agent in thousands of household products. It was also used in factories to prevent machines from overheating and fires from breaking out. Builders of ships and locomotive trains also embraced asbestos, using it to regulate the temperature in boiler rooms, engines, and even hot water pipes. This is because asbestos is resistant to heat, fire, and electricity, and does not react to most chemicals. It is also strong and durable when woven together, providing a range of uses that exceeded most materials available during the twentieth century.

However, as more and more workers complained of difficulty breathing and respiratory diseases like mesothelioma, it became apparent that asbestos was carcinogenic. Large corporations that relied on asbestos to make their products and even the government, which mandated the use of asbestos in ships, kept this information from the general public for decades. By the 1970s, though, the relationship between asbestos and cancer was undeniable. In 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency enacted the Asbestos Ban and Phase Out rule, effectively banning asbestos from use in the United States. In 1991, however, lobbyists fought the ruling claiming it was the law was overturned, allowing manufacturers to use asbestos in trace amounts in their products, under strict regulation. In the time since, however, manufacturers have had a tough time finding a replacement.

Locomotive engineers were included in the group of workers who complained of asbestos diseases. With asbestos being used in the boiler rooms, engines, and cabs of their trains, they were virtually surrounded by danger. And while asbestos is relatively safe when left alone, the jarring of the train and the constant pounding of pistons and moveable machinery was enough to release dust particles into the air. When engineers and train yard employees inhaled the microscopic particles, which could be curly in shape or long and needle-like, they became lodged in the mesothelium, the protective membrane that lines the lungs. This lining allows them to expand and contract, enabling breathing. When asbestos fibers are breathed in, they poison this lining, making breathing difficult. Malignant cells develop, replacing healthy ones.

Because the process can take years or even decades from the time of exposure, diagnosis of mesothelioma isn't usually made until the disease has reached advanced stages. The growth has usually spread beyond what is containable by surgical means, but palliative care is available to comfort the patient and relieve painful symptoms. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are the most common methods of treatment, using drugs and powerful x-rays, respectively, to combat tumors and stop their spread. Alternative treatments are also available. These are methods that researchers are still developing as they learn more about mesothelioma. Using cutting edge techniques, they give patients care that they believe will be effective against the growth. They also monitor the patients to see how the disease responds to the treatment, and determine what can be done to provide more effective care. As of yet, researchers have not discovered a cure for mesothelioma.


Workers at Risk for Asbestos Exposure

Below are a list of occupations and trades that were at risk for asbestos exposure:

Last Edited: Sun July 26, 2020