Railroad Workers Long Term Exposures. Results of a new study suggests a link between long-term exposures to extremely low-frequency electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and two specific types of cancer seen in railroad workers.
An article in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine (OEM), reported on an analysis of health records of more than 20,000 retired Swiss railway workers for a period of 30 years. The researchers discovered strong correlations between EMF exposures and myeloid leukemia, a blood cancer, and Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph system.
Myeloid leukemia is a type of cancer that begins in the bone marrow. Once the marrow cell becomes a leukemic cell, it multiplies uncontrollably into billions of cells, according to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. These cells do not function normally and they are able to grow and survive better than normal cells. The leukemia cells block the production of normal cells, resulting in a lower number of healthy blood cells.
Hodgkin’s lymphoma (formerly called Hodgkin’s disease) is a cancer of the lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system. In Hodgkin’s lymphoma, abnormal cells spread beyond the lymphatic system and as the disease progresses it compromises the body’s ability to fight infection.
The personal injury attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP stay up to date with the latest information about the health risks of EMF and other occupational exposures. The firm offers free consultations to individuals with questions about this issue.
EMFs and Cancer
All electronic devices, including computers, radios, electric motors, and cell phones generate EMFs. Railroad engineers who spend long shifts in locomotive cabs filled with electronic equipment, experience chronic EMF exposure.
Dr. Martin Roosli of the University of Berne led the Swiss research team. The study reports that drivers of trains had a five times higher incidence of myeloid leukemia than other railway workers, possibly due to their long exposure to electronic devices in the train engine cab. The study also found that train operators were more than three times more likely to develop Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Train passengers, however, do not have the same level of risk. The researchers concluded that since “passengers spend considerably less time in trains than the people with the occupations studied and their exposure levels and potential health risk are therefore negligible.”
Health Risks for Railroad Workers
Railroad workers face a variety of occupational cancer risks because of the many known carcinogens and toxins present in their work environment. Railroad workers are exposed to benzene and other chemicals, to asbestos fibers and welding fumes and diesel fumes.
The diseases caused by these chronic occupational exposures often go undiagnosed in their early stages when they are more treatable. For many railroad workers, occupational cancers and other diseases are often diagnosed at later stages, making the conditions more difficult to treat and more likely to result in serious injury, disability, or even death.
Railroad workers’ occupational exposure to known carcinogens is linked to diseases including lung cancer, kidney cancer, bladder cancer, colon cancer, bone cancer, leukemia, multiple myeloma, mesothelioma, and asbestosis.
Concern Over EMF Exposure
Concerns about the dangers of EMF exposure extend beyond occupational exposure. With the recent boom in cell phone use among people of all ages, the risk of extensive EMF exposure has become a widespread concern. In September 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued recommendations to parents to reduce children’s cell phone exposure.
The AAP’s Council on Environmental Health issued the recommendations in response to a two-year study conducted by the National Toxicology Program. In the study, rats were exposed to the types of radio frequency radiation that cell phones give off. Those rats were compared with non-exposed rats. Some of the exposed rats developed cancerous tumors, showing a potential connection between exposure to radiation and an increased risk of cancer.
The study found an increase in brain tumors (gliomas) and malignant schwann cell tumors of the heart, as well as DNA damage in brain cells, according to Ronald L. Melnick, Ph.D., a toxicologist at the National Institutes of Health who lead the NTP study. Melnick calls this a “major public health concern” because the tumors and DNA changes occurred in the same types of cells that have been reported to develop into tumors in epidemiological studies of adult cell phone users. The cancer risks may be greater for children because “greater penetration and absorption of cell phone radiation in the brains of children and because the developing nervous system of children is more susceptible to tissue-damaging agents,” Melnick said.