Maintenance workers in Dutch rail depots were exposed to unsafe levels of the carcinogenic metal Chromium-6 for decades, a study has concluded.
National train operator NS commissioned the research, which looked at the period from 1970 to 2020, after discovering that some train components contained Chromium-6. Traces of the metal could be released during maintenance or repairs, including repainting.
The public health agency RIVM said that improvements to workspaces implemented since 2019, including better ventilation, separate welding and sanding spaces and more protective equipment, had brought the risk down substantially.
The new chairman of NS, Wouter Koolmees, apologised on behalf of the company for not protecting employees properly at work and acknowledged the ‘pain, the uncertainty and the suffering’ that had ensued.
‘For colleagues and former colleagues who have become ill or are concerned about their health, the results are distressing,’ he said. ‘And they are extremely painful for NS.’
Chromium-6 is used in industrial coatings and paint and is largely safe when in solid form. Small particles, however, can cause cancer, lung disease and allergies.
NS has set up a compensation system for affected workers and says relatives of those who have died from workplace illnesses will be entitled to widows’ and survivors’ benefits.
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