Our law firm, Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis, and Appleton, has a special concentration in railroad injury matters, as well as all forms of personal injury. We have recently been retained on cases involving railroad workers who have developed cancer and other radiation related illness and disease as a result of exposure to radiation and radioactive substances while working for railroads that routinely transported cargo into and out of nuclear weapons facilities while working as railroad engineers, conductors or even as railroad track maintenance workers. In a number of areas of the country, nuclear weapon facilities required all kinds of uranium and radioactive material in order to build the often secret nuclear weapons. It is very common to have the primary source of transport of these materials and byproducts to be by railroad/train. Just as one example of many, there is evidence of ground contamination by radioactive substances in many areas outside of Oak Ridge weapons facilities in Tennessee (also often called Oak Ridge National Laboratory). The government Department of Energy, in an official report in the 1990’s, on the ground contamination near Oak Ridge, concluded that the radiation originated from radioactive sources within concrete casks, transported years earlier by rail. It is clear that even concrete casks cannot contain all “low level” radiation emissions.Mostly beginning in the 1990’s, there was an increased awareness of the potential dangers of what had historically been called low level radioactive waste being associated with many sorts of cancers. Thyroid cancer is very commonly associated with radiation exposure but there are many other cancers that are also associated with excessive exposure to radiation or ionizing radiation. Our office has reviewed a number of government reports that we have obtained under the Freedom of Information Act relating to radiation and toxic substances cleaned up from areas around Oak Ridge. The Department of Energy has actually paid for many clean ups around Oak Ridge, including at various scrap yards, and even on the CSX spur, which directly lead to Oak Ridge. Railroad workers commonly handled switching of the Oak Ridge waste materials, both in and out of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Most people realize that the first nuclear weapons were largely made at Oak Ridge as part of the top secret Manhattan Project.
Another site that has been the subject of contaminated radioactive clean ups as well as clean up of various other toxic substances is the Paducah facility in Kentucky, which also contributed many parts and components related to secret nuclear and chemical weaponry. There have been reports and newspaper articles relating to various types of contamination arising from Paducah, Kentucky, and also there have been concerns over many byproducts associated with these weapons that are extremely toxic substances. Some of these include Uranium, Hexafluoride, as well as Phosgene. All of these substances are highly toxic substances that are associated with cancers.
Radiation has been known since the time of the 1940’s to present ultra hazardous dangers to humans. Even when transporting low level radioactive waste, special protections must be employed to any workers associated with these known highly toxic substances. Many years ago the Department of Energy or Nuclear Regulatory Commission provided guidelines and standards for potential exposure limits for radioactive substances. Later, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has also been involved in regulating radioactive substances and further, with regard to railroad activities the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has relatively new regulations pertaining to radioactive materials although many of the regulations have been passed since the circumstances of September 11.
When a railroad worker has a disorder or cancer believed to be associated with the exposure to radioactive substances, careful analysis must be made by a doctor specializing in occupational medicine and it is important for a railroad injury lawyer to be familiar with the types of toxic substances or radioactive exposures that a railroad worker may have been exposed to while working for any particular railroads. Careful review of the occupational history is necessary, careful selection of a doctor with familiarity with radioactive exposure is also required. Other types of experts may be necessary in these types of cases, such as an epidemiologist, who is important to analyze statistical information relating to cancer rates relating to such exposure, and also a certified industrial hygiene expert would be an important expertise in any particular case to determine whether appropriate workplace safety measures were taken.
Railroads are fairly large companies and have always maintained a medical department. Railroad claims departments also keep up very carefully with industry trends and medical conditions. It is always incredible to learn as a railroad injury lawyer representing railroad workers how few important workplace safety measures were taken by railroads and this would include the most basic protections against the toxic potential exposure to highly radioactive substances being transported by railroads.
Several railroad workers that this author has interviewed explained that no respiratory protection was provided to railroad workers working in and out of certain nuclear weapons facilities, even though the particular railroad in question knew that only by products of radioactive weaponry were being transported either in or out of the facility. Inside the plant workers may have been wearing space suits, but as soon as the train car crossed the threshold and was moved by the railroad, no radioactive exposure safety measures were employed by the railroad moving the same materials.
With increased knowledge of the types of cancers associated with radiation, and new scientific and medical techniques, it may be increasingly easier to associate certain types cancers and occupational exposures with the lack of workplace safety measures by railroads.