Diesel Exhaust Exposure and Early Detection

by: Jay A Kaplan
Did you know...
that there are very few sure things - especially when it comes to your health? For example, one study says drink coffee to avoid kidney cancer, while another says coffee causes brain tumors. But one sure thing everyone agrees on is that the "early detection" of any disease saves lives. Early detection is important to you because every day at work, craft-union workers are exposed to diesel exhaust. What's worse is that your exposure to diesel exhaust is chronic. That is, every day it's there in the breathing space of the cabs that you work in. Each breath in a cab of a running diesel locomotive is contaminated with diesel exhaust. You smell it, taste it, and breathe it in. The other terrible aspect of diesel exhaust exposure in train service is that it's unprotected. That is that there is nothing between your lungs and the diesel exhaust. No protection, no respirator, no sealed cab, just your lungs and the diesel exhaust. When it comes to diesel exhaust exposure, if you combine chronic with unprotected, you're very likely to get one or both of two, common, chemical diseases. The first chemical disease caused by diesel exhaust is obstructive lung disease. I'll tell you about the second disease in a minute. But with either, early detection gives you your best chance to survive and gives modern medicine's its best chance to work.

The first chemical disease to look out for is obstructive lung disease. A recent study determined that between 40 and 50% of train service workers suffer from the effects of obstructive lung disease as a result of their chronic, unprotected exposure to diesel exhaust. That's almost half of you out there in train service who suffer with a chemical disease. That's a very significant number. Almost an epidemic. If you are now giving a sigh of relief because you do not work in train or engine service -- DON'T -- railroaders who work in the shopcrafts, as well as the maintenance of way and signal department have also suffered the effects of chemical disease when exposed to diesel exhaust in the workplace.

What's even worse are the effects of obstructive lung disease. Some occupational diseases are relatively benign. Take for example, hypertension, related to on-the-job stress. A cold beer and a quiet space is usually enough to relieve the symptoms. Seriously, medicine is usually effective to control the disease. But obstructive lung disease is very different. Obstructive lung disease robs you or your breath. Diesel exhaust exposure causes obstructive lung disease by the deposit of diesel soot into your lungs. Diesel soot is especially hard on human lungs because it's so fine. Diesel exhaust's ultra-fine particles lodge in your lungs in places where these fine particles aren't easily removed by lung itself (mucociliary escalator). Also you can't cough them up. Once they're in, they're there to infiltrate your lungs and begin the process which interferes with your breathing. Eventually, these fine particles clog the lumen in your lungs and gradually your lungs lose their elasticity and become less and less able to expand and contract with each breath.

Day by day, month by month, year by year, these fine particles accumulate and burden your breathing. Just like a weight on your chest. You struggle up steps where once you reached the top without a sweat. You may notice this disease as a shortness of breath accompanied by a persistent cough, watery eyes, an itchy throat or hoarseness. Or maybe you'll notice that you get up more often at night, or just don't sleep as deeply or that you wake up coughing or not feeling as refreshed after a night's sleep. You could also find yourself listless, without enough energy to do the things you enjoy. Or that you're always yawning and feeling tired and beat. Or it may be that you get more "colds" and upper respiratory infections.

Another common outcome of obstructive lung disease is diesel asthma. What you once thought of as an allergy may be diesel asthma, a newly recognized disease among lung and asthma specialists. With diesel asthma, you'll notice that once you're in the cab, you experience a sudden shortness of breath or quick on-set hypersensitivity to diesel exhaust, both of which occur without warning. You'll also notice that your reaction to diesel exhaust becomes increasingly severe and persists long after you're out of the cab. All these are common symptoms of obstructive lung disease which in addition, over the years may cause the loss of fifty percent or more of your lung's ability to expand to breathe.

Now you may be saying to your self "I smoke!", that's probably the cause of my lung problems. You're wrong. Compared to chronic, unprotected, diesel exhaust exposure, cigarette smoke is an after-thought. Think of it this way, if all the bad things in cigarette smoke filled a swimming pool, diesel exhaust would fill the same swimming pool thirty times over. Also, you should know that modern diagnostics distinguish between the lung damage cause by diesel exhaust as opposed to cigarette smoke. But the carriers would love nothing better than to jump on the tobacco bashers band wagon and blame all the lung disease in their workers on big tobacco. All the while they blame the Marlboro Man, they're destroying your lungs by causing you to endure chronic, unprotected, diesel exhaust exposure every day you are at work.

The problem is so serious that the government recently recognized the grave human health threat posed by diesel exhaust and promulgated new diesel regulations which prohibit the entry of any diesel exhaust into cabs. (See 49 CFR Part 229.43(a)) Needless to say, the government's new diesel exhaust regulations haven't had much effect on the way carriers protect your lungs. Where you work, there aren't any regulations, only you and the diesel exhaust. Your responsibility under these conditions is to get checked to determine whether you're one of the fifty percent affected by obstructive lung disease. Or maybe, one of those affected by the second chemical disease caused by diesel exhaust.

Now, if you think obstructive lung disease sounds bad, the second chemical disease caused by chronic, unprotected, diesel exhaust exposure is a real killer. It's cancer. There is uncontroverted, medical evidence that exposure to diesel exhaust causes cancer in humans. Not cancer in mice, hamsters, rats or paramecium, but in humans, just like you and me. Medical studies of workers chronically exposed to diesel exhaust show that diesel exhaust causes lung cancer, urinary tract cancer, especially bladder cancer, cancer of the stomach, prostate, mouth, larynx, esophagus and colon. What's worse, the kind of cancer diesel exhaust causes usually becomes metastatic or the kind that spreads. In my opinion, this is the worse kind of cancer because even if you successfully treat the lungs or place where it's originally found, you worry for the rest of your life about whether a "spot" will show up on the liver, kidneys or brain.

But there's good news too. Right now there is a new kind of cat scan which detects cancer of the lung, the most common kind associated with diesel exhaust exposure, in its earliest stages. If caught in its earliest stages, you have a real chance. It not, you don't; it's as simple as that. Let me give you a statistic that underscores the idea that early detection saves lives. In 1970 the mortality of lung cancer patients, that is the percent that died as a result of the disease, was about 7 in 10 or 70% mortality. That means for every 10 with the disease, seven died. In 1999, if detected early enough, only 3 in 10 died or 30%. But now consider this, if you were not in the early detection group, your chance for survival went back down to the 1970 numbers. That means without early detection your chance at survival goes back to the 1970's where 7 in 10 died. Modern medicine works - but only with early detection. The difference, literally life or death, is early detection.

Lastly, medical professionals have recently made a connection between diesel exhaust and a new chemical disease. That new chemical disease is called cognitive dysfunction or diesel encephalopathy. I'll call it cognitive dysfunction because it's easier to pronounce. What you should know is that cognitive dysfunction is the way a company physician tells you your "losing it" mentally. A recent study of workers tied diesel exhaust exposure to memory deficits, sensory losses, equilibrium imbalances and mood swings. If your short term memory is getting worse it may be your exposure to diesel exhaust. If you trip more often or notice nausea when you quickly turn your head, it may be the diesel exhaust. If your eyesight or hearing is getting progressively worse, even with protection, it may be the diesel exhaust. If you set your keys down and forget 2 minutes later where they are, don't be so quick to blame your age. In all likelihood, it may be the diesel you work around and not the number of birthdays you have celebrated.

Although cognitive dysfunction is new, the medical community now knows how to detect it. Whatever your legal and health concerns, we are there to help. Take the first step and call us now at 800-5-KAPLAN. We'll help you get properly diagnosed and referred to highly qualified and competent occupational medical care providers that can make all the difference in your life.

Union Approved F.E.L.A. Attorneys

- Disclaimer -
This website is intended expressly for informational purposes only. The content included in this website is not legal advice and should not be relied on as such. Legal advice cannot be given without due consideration of all relevant information concerning your specific situation. No attorney-client relationship is created by viewing, downloading or making any other use of the website. The Kaplan Law Corporation in association with Stolpman, Krissman, Elber & Silver (SKES) represent clients only upon execution of a duly signed retainer agreement.