Former Hialeah Railroad Engineer Says Job Gave Him Three Kinds of Cancer

In his 15 years with the Florida East Coast Railway (FERC), Natale Sacco performed many jobs. From 1986 to 2001, he fueled and maintained trains at the Hialeah yard and along the railway from Miami to Jacksonville, working as a switchman, engineer, conductor, hostler, and trainman.

But in July 2015, the Port Orange man was diagnosed with kidney and lung cancer. Just last summer, his doctors gave word that he had stomach cancer too. Now in a fight for his life, Sacco has filed a lawsuit against his former employer. He says the rail company knowingly exposed him to toxic substances that led to his life-threatening prognoses.

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"[Sacco's] kidney cancer, lung cancer, and stomach cancer were the result of the negligence of [Florida East Coast Railway] in that it utilized or transported known cancer-causing materials including the toxic substances in its operation," says the complaint, which was filed February 5 in Miami-Dade circuit court.

A spokesman for the Jacksonville-based railway company did not respond to a message from New Times.

In his lawsuit, Sacco says he was exposed to a litany of toxic substances while working on diesel locomotives, including the fuel itself, herbicides, pesticides, asbestos, brake dust, kerosene, welding fumes, and sand dust. Diesel exhaust also contains benzene, a chemical deemed carcinogenic to humans. Millions of workers, including mechanics and painters, are regularly exposed to benzene in the course of their jobs, and many have sued their employers for personal injuries related to that exposure.

Studies also suggest employees who work with diesel locomotives, such as Sacco, face an increased risk of cancer. A 2004 study of 54,973 U.S. railroad workers showed that those who were exposed to diesel fumes had a higher chance of getting lung cancer than the general population.

Sacco's lawyers say the railway company knew or should have known about those risks but did nothing to protect its employees. According to the complaint, FERC didn't test its properties for toxic substances, failed to remediate those substances, and never warned workers about their cancer risk. The suit also claims the company violated federal regulations about diesel exhaust inside the locomotive cabs.

"[Sacco's] exposure to the toxic substances, in whole or in part, caused or contributed to his development of kidney cancer, lung cancer, and stomach cancer," the lawsuit alleges.

Sacco's attorney did not respond to requests for comment, but the lawsuit says the former railroad worker "suffers from a fear of death" and has recently undergone chemotherapy and surgery to remove a kidney. As of November, he was raising money for cancer treatments on GoFundMe and Facebook.

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