Railroad Worker's Exposure to Solvents at Work

by: Jay A Kaplan
Did you know...
that when someone called you a fathead as a child they were technically correct? In fact, we're all fat heads because our brains are mostly composed of fat. As it turns out, fat is the best way our bodies know to send and to receive an electrical impulse. Since our brains do little other than send and receive electrical impulses, the more fat in our heads the better.

The key here is "fat brains". However, you as railroad worker face a real threat to your brain's ability to retain the fat it needs for proper neurologic function. The threat is solvent exposure. You've probably seen or used solvents at work to dissolve grease or remove oils and tar from metal parts and surfaces. Well, if you're exposed to those solvents at work, without the protection of "moon suits", solvent-resistant gloves and a respirator, those same solvents continue to dissolve "grease" in your body's nervous system and most importantly, your brain. If you've been exposed to solvents at work, without proper protection, you may suffer from solvent encephalopathy or SE. I'll refer to solvent encephalopathy as SE because it's easier to pronounce and remember.

SE is a silent epidemic among craft-union, railroad workers. SE is silent because the symptoms are almost always misdiagnosed. If you go to the wrong source for answers, you're very likely to get the runaround or hear that SE's symptoms are just "old age" or "you're not as young as you were" or "it's the normal aging process". That's just bunk. Over the past several years that we have been specializing in representing railroaders on these type of cases, we have discovered the "right" answers to questions like these: Why is it so hard for me to get to sleep? Why am I so forgetful? Why do I get headaches all the time? Why do my moods swing, seemingly on their own? Why do my ears ring? Why am I so irritable? Why don't I have the desire to do the things I used to enjoy? Why does it seem like I'm in a terrible rut? Am I really this clumsy? Why have I lost interest in sex?

The answers to the questions I just recited all relate to higher brain function. The exact target of solvents that affect your brain. For example, the ability of your brain to store information is what we commonly refer to as memory. If solvents have affected your brain's ability to store information, you worry about your ability to find your car keys after you lay them down. Or, if solvents have affected your higher brain functions, you may be unable to sufficiently relax to fall asleep. You spend your nights in shallow sleep, dozing off periodically, but never getting that deep sleep necessary to feel refreshed and ready for the day ahead. We also see cases of solvent exposure where the railroad worker is depressed, with feelings of despair and hopelessness. This isn't aging, it's solvents. There are also cases of railroad workers who lose interest in the things that made their lives enjoyable. Whether it's a hobby, golf, fishing or sex, to those affected by solvents, it's just not worth doing anymore.

When you're confronted by any of these symptoms or feelings, you need the "right" answer "right now" because the "right" answer to these questions goes to the quality of your life and the enjoyment you get from living. If you don't get the "right" answers, you'll never enjoy your life the way life was meant to be enjoyed. We believe you have a right to get the "right" answers. More precisely, we know when your higher brain functions were affected by solvent exposure. Let me give you an example of one method used to determine whether SE affects your life. Are you ready for a little test? Here it is. I'll give you three words: chimney, float, angry. (Do not repeat the words) Got it? OK, in a minute, I'll give you the rest of the test.

In the meantime, if you come away with one thing, remember this: It is critical to obtain the "right" answers when you're troubled over sleeplessness, irritability, listlessness, disinterest or depression. If you trip more often or notice nausea when you quickly turn your head. Or if your eyesight or hearing are getting progressively worse. Make sure you get the "right" answer and "right now" before it gets worse. In that regard, as designated counsel, we are happy to discuss any of these concerns you may have with you at no obligation. In the event that you may decide to retain our firm, we will provide you with a referral to a Board Certified medical specialist who will be able to address all your medical needs and questions and thereby enable you to get the "right" answer.

Lastly, not all solvent exposures on railroad property are equal. Some members are exposed to pain and lacquer thinners, metal parts cleaners, heavy duty degreasers and solvent-based, floor cleaners. While this kind of exposure is proved to cause SE, other craft members are exposed to chlorinated solvents, which are much worse. Chlorinated solvents, such as trichloroethylene, perchlorethylene and trichloroethane, all produce solvent encephalopathy, but also cause cancer. Common cancers caused by chlorinated solvent exposure are pancreatic, brain cancer, skin cancer, lung cancer, urinary tract cancer, especially bladder cancer, and leukemia.

As dangerous as chlorinated solvent exposure is, there is one type of solvent exposure that creates the greatest risk to cancer. The most dangerous type of solvent exposure occurs when craft-union workers are exposed to chlorinated solvents and diesel exhaust at the same time. It is clear from recent epidemiology, by the way epidemiology is simply the sum of all cancer cases among workers exposed to a suspected carcinogen for a particular period of time compared to an unexposed population. The differences between cancer rates, tells researchers whether a real risk exists.

The epidemiology of workers exposed to chlorinated solvents and diesel exhaust shows that the cancer-causing agents in diesel exhaust work with the cancer-causing agents in chlorinated solvents to raise cancer rates among exposed workers through the ceiling. If you've experienced this type of exposure, get checked now, don't wait. Just get checked. If you don't know where and how to get checked, check with us. As I stated, we know the right physicians and can recommend the right diagnostic tools to determine your risk. But please get checked. Additionally, our firm has in our possession biomedical studies that clearly show the connection between chlorinated solvents, diesel exhaust and cancer. If you are interested in receiving these studies please feel free to contact us and we will provide them for you.

Now the other part of the SE test: How many remembered: chimney, float, angry. If you got them all then the next time your wife asks you why you're not interested in sex--you can't tell her it's the solvents. If you didn't get three, then call us for the "right" answers "right now". Whatever your legal and health concerns are, we can help. We will assist you in getting properly diagnosed and referred to competent and qualified occupational medical care providers, who will provide you with the RIGHT answers RIGHT NOW. Please take the first step and call us at 800-5-KAPLAN.

Union Approved F.E.L.A. Attorneys

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