Many railroad workers are at elevated risk for acute myeloid leukemia (AML), myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a result of their workplace exposures to benzene. Benzene can be found in diesel fuel and exhaust. Virtually all crafts of railroad workers experience diesel exhaust exposures.
Benzene was also prevalent in railroad shops where car department workers and locomotive machinists, electricians and pipefitters used benzene-containing products like Liquid Wrench as a bolt breaking solvent. These railroad shop employees would inhale benzene containing vapors from solvent baths which were present in many shops. Safety-Kleen parts washers were commonly used by many railroads. CRC Brakleen contained benzene as did certain paints, thinners and adhesives used by carmen, machinists and locomotive pipefitters.
Diesel-powered locomotives, forklifts and cranes were left running inside railroad shops. This exposed the railroad workers to excessive amounts of diesel exhaust. Workers would dunk rags in benzene-containing solvents and use those rags to clean parts and tools. They were never informed that these exposures can lead to leukemia. Many workers actually washed the grime off their hands with benzene-containing fuels or solvents.