In a surprising case out of Idaho which showcases just how dangerous asbestos can be, a judge has handed down a six-month prison term to a construction supervisor who mishandled asbestos-covered pipes. The case began when it was revealed that the construction supervisor who was chosen to oversee an upgrade of one Idaho town’s sewer system violated federal environmental laws by failing to properly dispose of the asbestos.
Specifically, the man, Douglas Greiner, was accused of failing to properly oversee his crew as they cut up pipe and illegally dumped it and asbestos-contaminated soil across the town. The asbestos was seen as so dangerous that the EPA had to step in and ended up spending $4 million to clean up the various dumping sites.
The judge presiding over Greiner’s case acknowledged that Greiner likely did not act intentionally, but noted that the crime is incredibly serious given the dangers posed by asbestos exposure. As a result, the judge sentenced Greiner to six months behind bars followed by six months of house arrest.
The reason Greiner’s punishment was so severe is that asbestos itself can be so dangerous. The inhalation of asbestos fibers can cause serious diseases of the lungs and other organs that may not appear until years after the initial exposure occurred. Asbestos fibers associated with these health risks are too small to be seen with the naked eye which means people may be breathing in harmful substances and never even realize it. Those who have been exposed to asbestos are at risk for developing conditions such as asbestosis, lung cancers and mesothelioma.
One group of workers at special risk for asbestos-related harm is those in the railroad industry, including employees for railroad operators like Norfolk Southern, CSX and Amtrak. Workers that are often affected by asbestos include engineers, conductors, car repair workers, pipefitters, shop workers, and even track maintenance workers.
As recently as the 1980s, new asbestos-containing materials were being used in trains including Insulation for walls and ceilings in locomotives, on gaskets and especially in railroad brake shoes. Not only did the installation and removal of asbestos containing materials create hazards, but railroad engines vibrate greatly when they move along railroad tracks and this can cause invisible levels of asbestos fibers to get into the airspace of workers. Even more insidious is how asbestos is known for being hazardous even 20 or 30 years after a minor exposure. The fibers can cause changes in the lungs and other areas of the body, ultimately leading to cancer. Those working in close proximity to these materials, including railroad mechanics who have to replace such materials often, have an increased risk of developing asbestos-related health conditions.
Though those working in close proximity to materials containing asbestos are at particular risk of developing health problems, the fact is that there are documented cases of railroad employees in every area of railroad work having been diagnosed with asbestosis, lung cancers, or mesothelioma. To learn more about the dangers of asbestos and mesothelioma, read the following article written by one of my firm’s experienced FELA injury attorneys.