Four former railroad workers, all suffering from diagnosed cases of lung disease, recently filed a lawsuit against BNSF Railway alleging exposure to dusty work conditions, which resulted in damage to their lungs and respiratory systems.
Navajo Nation members Andrew Ashley of Houck, Ariz., Jimmy Bowman of Window Rock, Ariz., Jack Gilmore of St. Michaels, Ariz., and Hoskie Yonnie of Ya-Ta-Hey, N.M., labored as trackmen and track machine operators for the former Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway (now part of BNSF). The lawsuit, filed by Roven-Kaplan, LLP, states that exposure to toxic ballast rock, gravel, coal dust and fibers caused the men to contract occupational lung diseases.
“While helping lay miles of railroad tracks in New Mexico and Arizona, these men worked with tools, heavy equipment and machinery that stirred-up tremendous amounts of toxic particles and dust,” said attorney John D. Roven. “BNSF failed to provide ventilation, warnings and protection that constitute a safe work environment. We believe the polluted, dusty and unhealthy conditions have impaired their enjoyment of life as well as their earning capacity and interfered with their right to a healthy retirement.”
Gilmore and Yonnie began working for the railroad in the 1940s while Ashley and Bowman were employed beginning in the late 1960s. According to Roven, thousands of men, including many Navajos, were exposed to similar conditions as the railroads were constructed and repaired throughout the Southwest.
“The effects of harsh labor conditions on a worker’s lungs and respiratory system often go unnoticed until years later,” said Roven. “Symptoms of occupational lung diseases such as shortness of breath, chest pain, chest tightness and abnormal breathing patterns frequently resemble other medical conditions.”