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Asbestos Risks in the Transportation Industry

Many areas of transportation used abundant asbestos in the past. This includes the railroad industry, road construction and maintenance, and airplanes and airports. While the dangers of asbestos are well known today, this wasn’t always the case. Asbestos use in transportation has decreased significantly, but there are still risks, especially for those who are involved in maintenance, repair, and renovation of older trains, buildings, and roads.

Workers in these industries were exposed to asbestos in the past and are now at risk of becoming sick, decades after working. Younger workers may still be exposed to older materials. If you face either of these situations, let an asbestos lawyer advocate on your behalf to help you get what you deserve if you have gotten sick from asbestos exposure.

mesothelioma and transportation industry

Asbestos in Roadbuilding

Construction workers have long been at risk for asbestos exposure, but it is not just the construction of buildings; workers who construct roads are also at risk. One way in which workers, and even people living near road construction, may be exposed to asbestos is through asphalt. Asphalt is a common road material and is made from petroleum products.

This was a particular issue through the 1970s when asbestos was commonly added to asphalt used to construct roads. Asbestos added strength to the material, especially important in colder climates where roads break down more easily. Workers who constructed those roads were put at risk of inhaling asbestos fibers. Today, workers and residents may be at risk as these older, asbestos-containing asphalt roads are broken down to be reconstructed and repaved.

Another source of asbestos exposure in roads is in the dust created on dirt and gravel roads. Dirt and gravel may contain asbestos fibers, depending on the location or the source. When these roads are dry, construction activities, or just cars driving on them, can cause big plumes of dust to be kicked up, exposing workers and nearby residents. In California, for instance, a rock called serpentine often contains asbestos. A study there found that asbestos fibers were found as far as 200 feet from dirt roads in the state where this rock is abundant. The state began paving dirt roads to prevent asbestos exposure.

Other states are still putting residents and workers at risk, including Alaska. The state passed a bill a few years ago that allows construction companies, including those building roads, to use gravel that is known to contain asbestos. The state is allowing it because the gravel is cheaper than any alternatives, but the allowance puts workers and residents at risk.

Railroads and Asbestos

The railroads that now crisscross the country were once a novelty and an exciting vision of the future in the U.S. They enabled quicker movement of people and goods than ever before and expanded the economy and the migration of people to the west. While railroad travel has been beneficial in so many ways, it has also been an industry that has caused harm to workers and people who live near railroads and depots. One of the dangers railroads have posed over the years is exposure to asbestos.

Asbestos was used in many places and components in the railroad industry. Insulation made with asbestos, for instance, was commonplace. It was used to insulate the engines and boilers, electrical panels, pipes, and even in the walls of the cars themselves as well as in railroad stops and depots. Asbestos could also be found in several materials and parts used to build trains: sealing cement, gaskets, brake linings and pads, clutches, and ceiling and flooring tiles.

Those people most at risk of asbestos exposure in the railroad industry were employees. Anyone who worked with the parts that went into railways, including maintenance and repair workers, and those who made the components and assembled the trains were all at risk of inhaling asbestos dust. Even workers who did not handle asbestos parts or materials directly were at risk. Those who worked in the area, like in roadhouses, depots, and railway shops, were likely exposed to the dust created by other workers.

A survey conducted in the 1980s found some disturbing facts about railway workers and asbestos. The results showed that nearly a quarter of workers over the age of 50 had been exposed to asbestos, but that a significant amount of younger workers had also been exposed. There have been many lawsuits over this exposure, including a case in 2006 in which a former railway worker won $7.4 million from CSX Transportation after being exposed for decades and then developing mesothelioma.

Asbestos in Airports and Aircraft

Both airplanes and airports have contained asbestos materials and parts for decades. While that has changed, there are workers who were exposed in the past and are suffering now with illnesses like mesothelioma and there are risks associated with current repairs and renovations of aircraft and airport buildings. Past and current workers are still at risk of developing asbestos illnesses from exposure.

Aircraft long contained asbestos in many components, including insulation in the engine and around electrical components, in the brakes and heating systems, in cargo bay insulation, in gaskets, in torque valves, and in many other parts. Mechanics working on aircraft also used equipment, like epoxy and adhesive that contained asbestos. The men and women who constructed these planes and maintained them were put at risk of asbestos exposure. Those who currently work on older planes are still at risk. This is true for both civilian and military aircraft.

Lawsuits over this exposure have been filed in many instances. In one case, which is not yet settled, the widow of a former aircraft mechanic filed the suit after her husband died from mesothelioma. He worked as a mechanic, specifically handling aircraft brakes. He did this work for decades, beginning in the 1960s, before being diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2009 and dying a year later.

Airports were also constructed with asbestos, in insulation, ceiling and flooring tiles, and many other components. Workers who constructed the buildings were put at risk of asbestos exposure, but today people are still at risk as these older airports get renovated. Just a couple of years ago, for instance, Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI) underwent renovations that required unexpected abatement of asbestos. Also recently, more than 100 workers at Austin’s international airport were exposed to asbestos during a construction project.

If you have ever worked in the transportation industry, there is a chance that you were exposed to asbestos. Be sure to tell your doctor that this is a possibility and consider being screened for mesothelioma and other asbestos illnesses. The earlier you are diagnosed, the better your chances of survival. And if you are diagnosed with mesothelioma, lung cancer, or asbestosis, you may be able to win a settlement to help cover your costs. Too many employers in this industry put workers at risk without adequate warning.


Page edited by Dave Foster

Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.

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