Creosote is the most popular wood preservative in the United States, but safety concerns have resulted in the banning of the product from consumer applications. It is still used in industry, however, and railroad workers have the greatest contact with the substance. It is used to treat critical rail infrastructure components such as railroad ties and plugs and while many rail workers are exposed to the compound, maintenance workers are most likely to come into contact with creosote. The Chicago creosote exposure injury attorneys of Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers are committed to representing the needs of clients who have suffered serious medical complications or illnesses linked to overexposure to creosote and the failure of rail companies to provide adequate warnings or protection to workers.
What Creosote is and how it is Harmful to Humans
The primary function of creosote is to preserve wood, which explains why it has such a heavy application in the railroad industry. Rail infrastructure can include fences, bridges, tracks, poles, ties and plugs— all of which are made out of wood. Treating the wood used to make this infrastructure with creosote greatly reduces costs by extending its life so that it does not need to be replaced as frequently.
Creosote is actually a mixture of numerous chemicals and comes in three different forms, depending on its application. Coal tar creosote is made through the high temperature treatment of coal while beech wood and bush resin creosote come from the treatment of wood and bush resin, respectively. Many chimneys and wood burning grills produce creosote through the traditional burning of wood, and the substance is so flammable that homeowners with fireplaces are advised to routinely remove the buildup of creosote from their chimneys to prevent fires.
It is important to note that creosote found in nature and at hazmat sites is very difficult to clean. It is not water soluble, which means it will not dilute into water and its flammability makes it hazardous. While researchers suspect that creosote is a compound that comprises over 10,000 different chemicals, only 300 of them have been identified to date. The chemicals that can cause harm to humans fall into the categories of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, phenols and cresols.
- Phenol— once used as an antiseptic, phenol was quickly discovered to have adverse effects on the skin, respiratory system and nervous system. Its effects are so pronounced that it was used in World War II by the Nazi party to perform individual executions. Repeated or long term exposure may result in chemical burns, lung edema, seizures, coma, damage to the liver or kidneys and a poisoning effect that attacks the central nervous system.
- Cresols— a derivative of phenol, cresol is referred to scientifically as a methylphenol. They are known for low melting points and have an appearance closely resembling used motor oil. Exposure to cresols can occur through inhalation, accidental ingestion and contact with the skin. Little is really known about the long term health consequences of inhaling cresols, but it is known that ingestion or physical contact with these substances can result in burns, abdominal pain, heart disease, liver or kidney damage, anemia, facial paralysis and death.
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons— these chemicals are released through the burning of coal and biofuel and contribute to widespread air pollution in industrial areas. People can also be exposed through smoking cigarettes or coming in contact with creosote. Their insolubility make them difficult to remove from water sources, which is why they pose an environmental hazard. Oil spills, coal mining and the production of creosote all contribute to the spread of PAHs into the environment. The primary health concern linked to PAH exposure is cancer and the substance has been linked to cancers of the skin, lungs, bladder, liver and stomach.
Methods of Exposure to Creosote Can be Surprising
Some of the most immediately harmful effects of creosote exposure are due to skin contact or ingestion, so it is worth asking how workers can ingest or come into contact with the substance willingly or without knowledge. The reality is that environmental contamination is as much to blame as a lack of safety protocol and workers who ingest creosote do so by drinking contaminated water or eating food after touching something covered with or containing creosote.
For many years, the railroad industry has been aware of the risks associated with creosote exposure, but have failed to properly educate employees so that they may be aware of the risks and take appropriate precautions. Even brief exposure can have drastic consequences, so it is important that workers who have been injured understand how they were harmed and why the risks were not communicated effectively.
The immediate symptoms of creosote exposure include the following.
- A burning sensation in the mouth or throat that is accompanied by the taste of smoke.
- Stomach pain, which is often accompanied with nausea.
- Skin irritation, including the development of a rash or burn. Some burns can be severe, with reports of second and third degree burns linked to creosote.
- Disorientation or mental confusion. These are serious symptoms that require immediate attention.
- Convulsions or seizures. These may even lead to coma.
- Loss of consciousness or death.
Studies have shown a pretty definitive link between creosote exposure and cancer; especially where PAH compounds are concerned. Workers who develop cancer after many years on the job may be unaware that their long term exposure to creosote in the air was to blame.
Other studies have also linked creosote exposure to birth defects. The primary method of exposure for a railroad worker’s family is through contact with his or her clothing. Since creosote is not soluble in water, it can be carried on the other family members’ clothes through the laundry. This is a notable risk to railroad workers’ families that they deserve to be made aware of by their employers.
The Federal Employers’ Liability Act allows injured workers to bring lawsuits against their employers if it is determined their injuries were the result of willful or unintended negligence on the part of the companies they work for.
What to Expect from a Creosote Exposure Lawsuit
Our Chicago creosote exposure lawyers have experience working on FELA cases that can be invaluable when it comes to guaranteeing you have the greatest chance of recovering compensation. The most difficult aspect of building your case will be to link your injuries to employer negligence. We can do this through access to medical specialists and other relevant experts who can establish whether your employer took reasonable actions to provide you with a safe work environment. If negligence can be proven, you may be able to receive compensation that exceeds what you would normally recover from a worker’s compensation claim.
The damages you may be entitled to may include the cost of your medical treatment, the loss of wages associated with your injury, out of pocket expenses, loss of consortium in the event of wrongful death, pain and suffering and the loss of opportunity. We are often asked upfront by clients what we feel their cases are worth, but we can only provide an accurate assessment of a case’s value once we have had the chance to take all of these things into account.
Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers has helped thousands of injured workers recover every bit of compensation they deserved after being injured and we have experience and success with these cases that you can depend on. If you have been injured, we would like the opportunity to represent your interests so that you can find the compensation and justice that you are looking for.
Contact us today to arrange a free consultation with one of our award winning Chicago creosote exposure injury attorneys so that we can gather all of the information we need to build your case. We will review all of your legal options with you so that you know exactly what to expect and can guarantee that you will never be required to pay any upfront fees for our services. We work on a contingency basis, so unless we recover damages on your behalf, you’ll owe us nothing.