Railroad Asbestos Exposure

If you worked on a railroad prior to 1990, it is likely you were exposed to asbestos. Railroads knew for many decades that asbestos was a cancer-causing substance and yet did nothing to protect their workers from being exposed to it. You have to look no further than the "Snowmen of Grand Central" case for proof of railroads' callous disregard for the health of their workers.

Criteria for Bringing an Asbestos Claim

It can take anywhere from 15 to 50 years before you begin to experience the symptoms of asbestos disease and before signs of asbestos exposure show up on a chest x-ray.

In general, the criteria for bringing a claim of asbestos exposure are:

  • a positive chest x-ray showing scarring of the lungs
  • a positive Pulmonary Function Test (PFT)
  • confirmation of clinical symptoms by a medical doctor (such as a pulmonologist)

To bring a viable claim for asbestos you must:

  • have some clinical sign or symptoms of lung disease (e.g., difficulty breathing, chest pains)
  • be examined by a doctor who confirms those clinical symptoms and performs a positive PFT
  • obtain a chest x-ray and send it to us for reading by a qualified B-Reader

Usually, the presence of some scarring in the lungs or pleural plaques is not by itself sufficient to recover a claim for asbestos exposure and disease.

Please feel free to call us at 800-576-0515 to discuss whether you can recover for asbestos exposure and disease, or click here to send us your information and questions via email.

Asbestos-Related Diseases

There are several medical diseases that occur as a result of asbestos exposure. The ones of greatest concern and importance are pleural plaques, asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma.

Pleural Plaques

A majority of persons with heavy exposure to asbestos develop pleural plaques. The pleura is a thin lining that surrounds the lung. Asbestos fibers that are breathed in travel to the outside of the lung and cause scars to form in this lining. When they reach a certain size they are visible on a chest x-ray as a plaque. In general, these plaques do not cause any disability, but they do tell us that significant exposure has occurred.


Asbestosis is a scar formation in the substance of the lung itself. These scars can interfere with lung function, blocking the transport of oxygen from the air in the lungs into the blood vessels that travel through the lungs. Oxygen can only cross the membranes of the lung if they are very thin; asbestosis causes them to thicken.

The degree of scar formation determines the amount of shortness-of-breath that results. Some persons can have mild asbestosis and have no loss of exercise capacity; others with more extensive disease get out of breath with mild exertion. As a general rule, the greater the exposure the more the disease, but some people form scars more readily than others and so workers who have the same amount of exposure can develop a variety of severity of diseases.

Eventually these scars become visible on x-rays of the chest. There is a system of grading the degree of disease on the x-ray, called the ILO classification. Physicians who have received special training in this system are called "B" readers. Each x-ray is scored on the type of scar formation and the density of the scars. It is crucial that asbestos workers have their x-rays read by a "B" reader.

The scars can also be detected on pulmonary function testing. Asbestosis makes the lung stiffer and smaller, so the volume of air in the lungs is decreased. Oxygen transport as measured by the "diffusion capacity" is also decreased. Again the changes can be subtle, and test results should be interpreted by someone with experience in asbestos.

Once this scar formation takes place it is irreversible. Because of the damage to the lungs, a person with asbestosis is at increased risk of lung infections and so should get regular medical care and influenza vaccines.

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is a serious problem in asbestos workers. In general, insulators (a heavy exposure category) who have worked in the trade for 20 years and have never smoked have a risk that is 5 times that of a non-asbestos worker. However, an insulator who smokes has a 50- to 90-fold increase in risk because cigarettes and asbestos act together to cause cancer. Evidence shows that if this insulator quits smoking his risk of cancer falls over several years back to the range of the non-smoker. Since the effect of the asbestos is irreversible, one of the most important things a worker who has been exposed to asbestos can do is to quit smoking.

There is also a higher incidence of cancers of the gastrointestinal tract among asbestos workers.


Mesothelioma is a rare cancer of the pleura, the lining of the lung, that occurs in persons exposed to asbestos. It is extremely difficult to treat and usually is fatal. Although asbestos workers get mesothelioma at a rate far greater than non-exposed persons, it is still a much more rare cancer than the lung cancer discussed above. Pleural plaques are not cancer, nor do they turn into mesothelioma. They both occur in the lining of the lung, but they are separate diseases.

Feel free to give us a call at 800-576-0515 to discuss whether you can recover for asbestos exposure and disease, or click here to send us your information and questions online.