Diesel Exhaust Exposure in the Maritime Industry

August 27, 2020

If you’re reading this you likely know that this space is devoted to topics pertaining to occupational injuries, illness and/or diseases. Put another way, we discuss here injuries and/or illnesses that workers can develop due to exposures in the workplace over time, as opposed to a single traumatic incident. To date most of our discussions have been devoted to repetitive traumas that can cause conditions like injured backs, shoulders, hips and other joints. Today we would like to call your attention to the potential dangers of exposure to diesel fuel and/or diesel exhaust.

As most of you likely know, the motors which power commercial fishing vessels run on diesel fuel. During virtually the entire time that a fisherman is engaged in a fishing voyage, the diesel engines are running and potentially emanating exhaust fumes through multiple sources. Being exposed to these fumes, especially in concentrated levels over lengthy periods of time, has been known to cause cancer.

In other words, diesel fuel and diesel exhaust are and/or contain known carcinogens. One of these components is benzene. Benzene is a natural part of crude oil and can be found in both gasoline and diesel fuel. It is one of the top twenty chemicals that are being mass produced in the United States today. It is also used to make synthetic products like plastic and can be found in pesticides, degreasers, solvents, drugs, ink and other products. Workers who are exposed to these products or fumes can be at risk for long term affects. In the railroad industry, many workers have been exposed to benzene via diesel fumes and have filed dozens of lawsuits against their railroad employers as a result of conditions and diseases they incurred, arguably as a result thereof.

Exposure to benzene can happen three different ways:
1. Through inhalation;
2. Through the skin; or
3. Orally

The fumes that contain benzene are often invisible. Benzene has a sweet, aromatic odor that, if you can smell, you are being exposed to at a dangerous level. Many experts believe that there is no safe level for benzene exposures. However, OSHA has published regulations governing the maximum permitted amount of benzene emissions. The link to OSHA’s benzene regulation can be found here.

Ingestion orally and through the skin can also occur; when workers end up covered in diesel soot benzene may be absorbed through the skin. Symptoms of benzene exposure include dizziness, headaches and eye/skin/respiratory tract irritations, and drowsiness. For significant exposures. You may suffer from redness and blisters around the area that was exposed. If you have been inhaling benzene for an extended period of time you might be suffering from blood disorders, distal neuropathy, and/or memory loss and long term oral exposure has even caused death in the past.

In medical studies, benzene has been associated with leukemia, acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) and myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). It has also been linked to reproductive and developmental affects. If you would like to read more on the relationship between diesel exhaust and/or benzene and the development of cancer, which exposure to diesel exhaust in either gas or soot form, may cause, please read the links to materials that have been published by the American Cancer Society:  Benzyne and Cancer and Diesel Exhaust and Cancer.

If you, your loved ones, any family members or friends have been exposed to benzene, either by breathing in or coming in contact with diesel exhaust, gasoline, diesel fuel or any other substance containing a known carcinogen, and you are suffering from symptoms which may be related to these exposures, you may have a right to be compensated under the Jones Act if your maritime employer has failed to take reasonable precautions to protect you from these exposures. So long as your condition has been caused in whole or in part by these exposures and your employer’s failure to protect you from them, especially if the levels of benzene and/or levels of other carcinogens in your workplace exceeded OSHA’s maximum allowed emissions standards, you may have a claim for damages against your maritime employer.

FWY is extremely knowledgeable and experienced in handling many types of maritime litigation. If you have any questions in this regard, especially of you feel you, your friends or family members have been exposed and have developed some kind of medical condition as a result, don’t hesitate to email us here or call (617) 773-5500.