Employees of the NS workshop in Tilburg and other workshops in the country have for years been insufficiently protected against exposure to the hazardous substance chromium-6. As a result, they run an increased risk of serious diseases such as cancer, lung diseases and allergies. This is the conclusion reached by researchers from, among others, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) and the University of Tilburg.

    NS president Wouter Koolmees calls the results of the investigation ‘extremely painful’. The railway company will immediately open a claim settlement for victims or surviving relatives.

    In Tilburg, chromium-6 was also used in the NS workshop. Previously, thirty people who repaired trains during a reintegration process for people on welfare were already equated.

    Koolmees now apologizes to employees and former employees for ‘the suffering, the uncertainty and the sadness’ that the company has caused. “We have failed in this as a company,” he says.

    Chromium-6 was used for decades in paint that was put on trains. The fabric prevents rusting. From the 1970s, however, it became increasingly clear that chromium-6 poses health risks to people who work with it, not only when painting a train, but also when removing old layers of paint because workers can inhale polluted dust particles.

    Employees were ‘insufficiently informed’ about this for years. The use of personal protective equipment was ‘not consistently supervised’.

    At the NS and maintenance company NedTrain, the researchers found documents from 1975 and 1979 that already pointed to health risks. “But this knowledge was not shared enough”, it sounds. “NS has for a long time not complied with the applicable regulations for protecting employees against exposure to chromium-6”, the researchers also write in their report.

    Fitters, welders and cleaners
    However, they cannot determine exactly how high that exposure was, and how many people have become ill as a result. It is clear, however, that the risk of health damage was greater up to the year 2000 than afterwards.

    The researchers estimated for each job how likely it is that someone was exposed to chromium-6 between 1970 and 2020. They estimate, for example, that mechanics, welders and cleaners ran relatively high risks of exposure. The amount of compensation for people who have fallen ill is determined, among other things, on the basis of the job profile and the duration of the work.

    Additional evidence about the connection between work and illness is not requested, says Koolmees.

    READ ALSO: NedTrain liable for exposure to chromium-6, court rules