Toxic fumes warning at city rail depot

Toxic diesel fumes emitted by trains at a Leeds’ rail depot could be linked to some staff members developing cancer in recent years, according to trade union Unite.

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 died from the disease.

Unite says 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 union points out that the World Health Organisation classified diesel engine exhaust emissions as a class one carcinogenic agent in 2012, putting diesel emissions in the same category as as asbestos, mustard gas and tobacco.

And it says diesel emissions can cause lung cancer, with research linking them with various other types of cancer.

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

Unite regional officer, Kevin Hepworth, said:”Unite believes 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 Inadequate controls such as archaic outdated ventilation systems, mean the health of countless workers is being put at serious risk.”

An East Midlands Railway spokesman responded: “The safety, security and well-being of our colleagues is always our absolute priority.

“We have air-quality monitoring equipment at our depots and ensure our working environments are operated within legal limits and to industry standards.

“We work closely with our union representatives to identify ways to improve our working practices and conditions and we will continue to do so across all our depots, stations and offices.”

A Network Rail spokesman said: “We take the safety and well-being of all those who work on or around the railway incredibly seriously.

“We are committed to working with depot operators East Midlands Railway, as well as other train operators who use this facility, to improve this environment for all railway staff.

“We are working together on plans to improve the ventilation system in this facility and this work will be carried out next year.”