john tomlinson Jury establishes link between cancer and creosote, awards former railroad workerA Wisconsin jury awarded James Brown $7.5 million for the cancer he developed from exposure to benzene during his 31-year career as a railroad worker. It determined that Brown’s employers failed to adequately inform him of the health risks and provide appropriate protective equipment to reduce those risks.

The National Law Review reports that for the first time publicly the jury also established a link between Brown’s cancer and his exposure to creosote, a chemical containing benzene.

According to Righting Injustice, “Creosote is a chemical formed by the distillation of tars and other materials such as wood or fossil fuel.” The scent-producing hydrocarbons are byproducts of benzene and other related recurrent compounds.

Brown worked for Chicago & North Western Railway and Union Pacific Railroad. He handled creosote-soaked railroad ties and returned home each day with clothing soaked in in the toxic chemicals. Creosote and benzene often enter the body through the skin and Brown’s skin absorbed the chemicals from his clothing.

Doctors diagnosed Brown with Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), which soon developed into Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). According to the National Cancer Institute (Institute), this type of cancer occurs when the bone marrow makes abnormal myeloblasts (a type of white blood cell), red blood cells, or platelets. The Institute explains that this occurs in roughly 30 percent of the patients diagnosed with MDS.

Union Pacific Railroad argued that Brown’s exposure was not enough to cause the deadly disease. Expert testimony that the smallest exposure to the chemicals can cause AML swayed the jury. The National Law Review notes an added outcome of this case is that, “[t] his ruling is likely to influence future cases as more workers and their families come forward.”

If you would like more information about benzene exposure and benzene-related cancers such as Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), you can contact John Tomlinson, a lawyer in our Toxic Torts Section. You can reach him at 800-898-2034 or by email You can also find more information at

National Law Review
Righting Injustice
Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS) Foundation
National Cancer Institute

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