Toxic diesel fumes emitted by trains at a Leeds’ rail depot could be linked to a number of staff members developing cancer in recent years, Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, said today (Wednesday 5 February 2020).

The union said three staff members at the Neville Hill rail depot have developed cancers of the throat, with a fourth being diagnosed with throat and lung cancer.

A further four staff members also developed cancers of the lung, mouth, bowel and kidney respectively. Two of the eight staff members have sadly died from the disease.

All of the cancers have been diagnosed within a six year period, with four staff members being diagnosed within the last two years. Nearly of all of the staff have worked at the depot for more than a decade and four of the staff are making legal claims.

The troubling instances of cancer at the site were revealed as a shocking video filmed in late December emerged of a train spewing a ‘toxic fog’ of diesel emissions into the depot – an occurrence workers at Neville Hill say happens regularly.

The World Health Organisation classified diesel engine exhaust emissions as a class one carcinogenic agent in 2012 (causes cancer in humans), putting diesel emissions in the same category as as asbestos, mustard gas and tobacco.

Diesel emissions can cause lung cancer and research has also linked them with various other types of cancer. The consequences of exposure can take years or even decades to materialise.  

Unite is raising the matter with Network Rail, which owns the depot and East Midlands Rail, which runs and employs staff at the depot, and is calling on them to take ‘decisive action’ to stop workers being exposed to diesel emissions.

The union said that dangers staff face from diesel emissions at Neville Hill are ‘the tip of the iceberg’ with countless workers across the country being exposed to the toxic fumes everyday in their workplaces.

Unite regional officer Kevin Hepworth said: “The video captures just how this cancer causing toxic fog fills the depot that staff are expected to work in. Unite believes that the carcinogenic diesel emissions that our members at Neville Hill have been surrounded by day-in day-out, often for years at a time, could be linked to cancer rates at the depot.

“This is literally life and death. Both Network Rail and East Midlands Rail need to protect staff by improving the depot’s ventilation system as well as the policies meant to minimise staff exposure and the amount of fumes that are emitted. The dangers of diesel emissions have been known about for years and decisive action needs to be take at Neville Hill immediately.”

Unite national officer for health and safety Rob Miguel said: “Sadly the problem with diesel emissions at Neville Hill is just the tip of the iceberg. Exposure to diesel emissions is common across all sectors in which staff work in enclosed environments where engines are running. Inadequate controls such as archaic outdated ventilation systems, mean the health of countless workers is being put at serious risk.

“Unite has campaigned for years for this issue to be seriously addressed, so that our members and their families aren’t inflicted with potentially avoidable suffering or even an early death. The union has set up a diesel emissions register where workers can anonymously report instances of workplace exposure and our legal department is on hand to assist members who have suffered significant symptoms caused by breathing in the fumes.

ENDS

Notes to editors:

Video of the diesel exhaust emissions can be accessed here.

Unite’s diesel emissions register can be found here.

For more information please contact Unite communications officer Ryan Fletcher on 07849 090215.

Email: ryan.fletcher@unitetheunion.org

Twitter: @unitetheunion Facebook: unitetheunion1 Web: unitetheunion.org

Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.