Brain trauma linked
to cleaning solvents
Railroad workers exposed to certain cleaning solvents have been found to experience shrinking of the brain, leading to symptoms such as irritability and depression, and a lack of a concentration and memory, according to a recent medical study.
The four-year study by researchers at West Virginia Univ., the Univ. of Pittsburgh and Johns Hopkins Univ. showed that repeated exposure to a range of chemicals used to degrease locomotives caused a bridge of tissue linking the brain’s two hemispheres to shrink.
The study was initiated after hundreds of railroad workers who used the solvents from the 1950s to the 1990s, including those at rail giant CSX Corp., were diagnosed with brain damage, The Washington Times reported yesterday.
The workers who participated in the study, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in June, came primarily from railroad cleaning and repair shops in Cumberland, Md., and Huntington, W.Va. The study compared brain images of 31 railroad workers who were exposed to the solvents for at least 10 years with 31 persons who weren’t exposed.
“These individuals we studied have numerous complaints and a variety of problems related to the brain,” said Haut Marc, the lead author of the report and a professor in the departments of behavioral medicine and psychiatry, neurology and radiology at the West Virginia Univ. School of Medicine.
None of the workers studied has died from exposure of the solvents, like 1,1,1-trichloroethane, trichloroethylene and perchloroethylene – industrial chemicals once widely used in the industry. Most don’t show serious disabilities, Haut said.
Because this is the first study of its kind, it is too early to determine whether the brain can regenerate itself after a person stops coming in contact with the chemicals for many years, Haut said.
“We did not study these people before and after to answer that question,” he said, “So while there’s a tendency to infer that [the brain damage] is permanent, I would be cautious in drawing that conclusion.”
The study, which was funded partly with a grant from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, clearly showed brain damage became worse the longer a person was exposed to the chemicals, he said.
Gary Sease, a spokesman for CSX, said the company continues to think there is no credible and conclusive scientific basis to support claims that solvent exposure harmed company workers.
CSX has won and lost jury verdicts in chemical exposure cases that have gone to trial. It has argued that its workers problems could be explained by other factors, such as drinking alcohol, side effects from prescribed medicines or illnesses such as depressor or diabetes.
CSX, the railroad company with the largest number of claims, had paid out nearly $35 million to more than 460 current or former workers diagnosed with brain damage, the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky., reported.
Railroads began phasing the chemicals out of their shops in the early 1990s.
Dr. Haut said it’s possible other variables could be responsible for the subjects’ brain damage, but any workers with substance-abuse problems, a history of serious medical illness or a diagnosis of mental illness before solvent exposure were excluded from the study, he said.
“We worked very hard in selecting our subjects to rule out any other condition that could affect the brain in terms of size, shape and amount,” he said.
Workers involved in pending litigation with the railroad were not chosen to participate.
Joseph D. Satterley, a Louisville attorney who represents railroad workers, said he is aware of at least 100 pending lawsuits in Kentucky and elsewhere that were filed in the past few years.
The study, he said, “substantiates everything we’ve been saying all along.”
Girl tumbles to LIRR track
Brittany Walker from Jackson, Miss., is small in stature but big on luck. Less than an hour after she arrived in Manhattan with her family after a two-day bus trip from Mississippi, the shy 4-year-old fell into a gap between a train and a platform in Penn Station and landed on a track just inches from the deadly third rail.
The lucky part is she got out with just a few bruises and a single scratch on her right arm, the New York Daily News reported yesterday.
Brittany’s big scare on the Long Island Rail Road’s Track 18 played out yesterday before hundreds of rush-hour commuters, who froze with alarm as Brittany screamed “Mommy” from the dark below and her mother shrieked for help.
“My little girl was just laying down there and I couldn’t do anything,” said the mom, Terrian Walker, 28. “I was terrified. I was in total shock.”
Walker, her three daughters and her son had gone straight to Penn Station from the Port Authority Bus Terminal after returning from Jackson, where the kids had spent the summer with their dad.
Hurricane Katrina had destroyed Walker’s home, so three months ago she moved to Huntington, on Long Island, where she has a cousin.
Walker said two of her kids and six pieces of luggage already were on the 4:31 p.m. train to Long Island when she started toward the platform edge, lugging a suitcase with Brittany in front of her and her 7-year-old daughter behind.
The 3-foot-10, 25-pound Brittany disappeared into the gap between the train and the platform, which ranges from about 7 to 10 inches at that point.
Family friend Walter Casey, who was escorting the family to Huntington, said he immediately stretched out on the platform and stuck his arm into the gap.
“You could barely see her, but you could hear her. She was crying and yelling for her mother. I was reaching down and she was reaching up and then there was a spark.”
The 28-year-old sanitation worker from Huntington said a bolt of electricity “went through my left arm and it went numb so I had to pull back.”
He and Walker were still trying to get to the terrified tyke when police arrived, had the power cut, and, with the help of a bystander, got Brittany out about 15 minutes later. The girl was taken to Bellevue Hospital, where doctors said she had no serious injuries.
Railroad officials said the incident was under investigation.
Last month, an 18-year-old Minnesota woman was struck and killed by a train in the LIRR’s Woodside station, after she fell into the platform gap while stepping off another train.
Police search for elderly man
Newark, Del. police are looking for a 76-year-old man who is suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. Earsa Lee Dye was last seen about noon on Sunday boarding an Amtrak train for Detroit. He was scheduled to arrive in Michigan early Monday morning but never did.
Police said there is a chance he got off the train before it left Delaware, or before it arrived in Michigan. Dye is African-American, five-foot-six, 160 pounds, with balding gray hair and brown eyes. Anyone with information on his whereabouts is asked to call Newark Police, (302) 366-7142.
Rail traffic reported up in August
U.S. railroads originated 1,701,997 carloads of freight in August 2006, up 19,032 carloads (1.1 percent) from August 2005, the Assn. of American Railroads reported yesterday.
U.S. railroads also originated 1,247,653 intermodal units in August 2006, an increase of 73,154 trailers and containers (6.2 percent) over August 2005.
Eight of the 19 major commodity categories tracked by the AAR saw U.S. carload increases in August 2006 compared to August 2005.
Commodities showing carload gains in August 2006 included coal (up 42,295 carloads, or 6.3 percent, to 715,844 carloads); metals and metal products (up 8,765 carloads, or 13.6 percent, to 73,318 carloads); and grain (up 4,835 carloads, or 4.5 percent, to 112,390 carloads).
Commodities showing carload decreases in August 2006 included motor vehicles and equipment – down 13,351 carloads, or 12.0 percent, to 97,917 carloads; coke (down 6,305 carloads, or 20.6 percent, to 24,258 carloads), and nonmetallic minerals (down 5,630 carloads, or 13.6 percent, to 35,695 carloads).
For the first eight months of 2006, total U.S. rail carloads were up 171,617 carloads (1.5 percent) to 11,784,044 carloads, as year-over-year increases in coal (up 210,656 carloads, or 4.5 percent), and metals and metal products (up 43,701 carloads, or 9.5 percent, among other commodities, offset declines in nonmetallic minerals (down 51,408 carloads, or 19.4 percent) and motor vehicles and equipment (down 27,027 carloads, or 3.5 percent), among others.
“Rail traffic volumes reflect an economy that is growing at a moderate pace, but is a bit sticky in certain sectors,” noted AAR vice-president Craig F. Rockey.
“Led by coal and intermodal, volume overall has significantly outpaced 2005 year-to-date, and railroads are working hard to serve the needs of their customers as safely, reliably, and efficiently as possible.”
U.S. intermodal traffic, which consists of trailers and containers on flat cars and is not included in carload figures, was up 495,396 trailers and containers (6.4 percent) for the first eight months of 2006 to 8,215,572.
Total volume on U.S. railroads was estimated at 1.17 trillion ton-miles, up 2.7 percent from the first eight months of 2005.
Canadian rail carload traffic was up 4,457 carloads (1.2 percent) in August 2006 to 377,903 carloads, and down 31,553 carloads (1.2 percent) for the year to date to 2,604,378 carloads. In August, carload gains in chemicals (up 6,441 carloads, or 9.6 percent) and grain (up 5,362 carloads, or 12.9 percent), among other commodities, offset declines in carloads of coal (down 9,586 carloads, or 22.7 percent) and pulp & paper (down 2,458 carloads, or 8.6 percent), among others.
Canadian intermodal traffic was up 10,990 units (5.0 percent) in August 2006 compared with August 2005 to 231,906 units, and up 87,726 units (5.9 percent) for the first eight months of 2006 to 1,574,126 units.
Carloads carried on Kansas City Southern dé Mexico (formerly Transportación Ferroviaria Mexicana – TFM), a major Mexican railroad, were down 451 carloads (0.8 percent) in August 2006 to 56,513 carloads, while intermodal units carried totaled 20,979 units, up 511 units (2.5 percent). For the year-to-date, KCSM carloads carried were down 4.7 percent (19,596 carloads), while intermodal units carried were down 5.5 percent (7,898 units).
For just the week ended September 2, the AAR reported the following totals for U.S. railroads: 346,425 carloads, up 2.4 percent (8,050 carloads) from the corresponding week in 2005, with loadings down 1.6 percent in the East and up 5.6 percent in the West; intermodal volume of 253,168 trailers and containers, up 7.6 percent (17,946 units) and the second highest week on record; and total volume of an estimated 34.9 billion ton-miles, up 4.2 percent from the equivalent week last year.
For Canadian railroads during the week ended September 2, the AAR reported volume of 77,767 carloads, up 4.4 percent from last year; and 48,092 trailers and containers, up 4.2 percent from the corresponding week in 2005.
Combined cumulative rail volume for the first 35 weeks of 2006 on 13 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 14,388,422 carloads, up 1.0 percent (140,064 carloads) from last year, and 9,789,698 trailers and containers, up 6.3 percent (583,122 units) from 2005’s first 35 weeks.
The AAR is online at http://www.aar.org.
Symbol Close Yesterday’s Yesterday’s
BNI 65.84 -0.12 2,079,600
CNI 41.34 -0.30 637,000
CP 48.15 -0.38 195,200
CSX 30.28 0.35 3,425,700
FLA 53.35 -0.14 124,500
GWR 23.17 -0.67 419,000
KSU 26.26 -0.16 816,600
NSC 41.64 0.18 4,087,400
PWX 20.00 -0.42 5,600
UNP 79.88 -0.38 1,474,200
Friday’s ‘Running extra’
On Fridays, we’ll present rail-related literary works. – Ed.
Steam Days in New England
Where have they gone? Lamentation
No more dense smoke from tall steel stacks! for a steam engine
decline in a museum.
Some people yearn to see tall drivers roll;
Others listen for a slow chuffer
in a garden;
of wailing steamboat whistles
Hear the mighty
of a battleship taking the high iron
at Canton Junction’s stone viaduct.
Smoke so thick Clouds
with the smell of coal tar,
sweet and sour,
heavy and light,
an elixir of white, gray and black. Alcos, Baldwins, Limas
Brother, can you taste it? Consols, Mikes,
Sister, can’t you feel it? Pacifics
Harold Fraser breathed that smoke,
His lungs filled
with the smell of fire
He shoveled coal on the Beantown line It was better than
shoveling shit back on the farm
How many times did he bend his back?
How much water did his black beauty swill?
He shoveled black diamonds
from this town to Yale.
How many times did he fondle a bearing,
feeling for heat?
How many times did he tug the cord
that pulled the bellcrank
that urged the thirty-pound
polished, tuned, brass chime
to resonate across the New England hills? D#m
I wish I had been there,
aboard his Pacific
racing down the main at eighty,
stoking that red and yellow fire;
tugging its throttle,
making the steel centaur roar.
I wish I had been there.
Harold died in ’32 at thirty-two.
His son said, “No.”
Harold drank water from the tender.
He died the next day
on a fishing trip to Maine.
– Leo King