Asbestos has been useful to the railroad industry because many railroad and locomotive parts need to be fireproof, durable, and flexible. Railroad workers have a higher risk than average of developing lung cancer or mesothelioma because of their asbestos exposure.
Any railroad worker could have been exposed to asbestos. Occupational exposure is the most common cause of asbestos related diseases, like mesothelioma. Workers who were employed when asbestos use was at its most popular are more at risk than others.
All of these occupation groups and more could have been exposed to asbestos:
- Maintenance workers
- Loading/Unloading operators
Unfortunately, the family members and loved ones of railroad workers are also at risk of asbestos exposure. When a worker comes in contact with asbestos dust, asbestos can cling to their clothing. When they return home, the workers can inadvertently expose their family to asbestos.
For many decades before the 1970s the public was not well aware of the risks of asbestos and many industries relied heavily on it. Railroad workers who were employed before this time were probably exposed to asbestos.
Train companies have phased out using asbestos or parts from before 1980 in new trains. However, workers employed after the 1980s are still at risk of asbestos exposure. Many older trains are still in use and could use asbestos-containing parts. Older buildings such as train stations or repair shops may also still have asbestos in their insulation or other locations.
Some places where asbestos was located are:
- Insulation (steam and diesel locomotives)
- Railroad repair shops
- Railroad buildings
- Steam engines
- Engine rooms (diesel)
- Steam generators (diesel)
- Boiler insulation
- Steam generators
- Pipe covering
- Electrical panels
- Brake shoes