Workers Health & Safety Centre

Justice delayed for miners exposed to McIntyre Powder

Justice delayed for miners exposed to McIntyre Powder
Health and safety advocates say waiting for the results of a new study further delays the right of affected miners to receive answers and fair compensation.

Ontario’s Workplace Safety & Insurance Board (WSIB) has commissioned the Occupational Cancer Research Centre (OCRC) to conduct an independent study of the relationship between exposure to McIntyre Powder and the development of neurologic health effects in former miners.

From 1943 until approximately 1979, Ontario miners received government-sanctioned, employer-mandated McIntyre Powder treatments in change rooms (“drys”) or in special air-tight chambers as a supposed protective measure against silica-related disease. Silicosis is a well-documented and compensable work-related illness.

OCRC researchers will link historic data from the province’s Mining Master File to provincial health records to determine if there is an increased risk for neurological disease among McIntyre Powder exposed miners. This new study, to be completed by late 2019, follows a 2016 WSIB-commissioned systematic review of the research literature on occupational aluminum exposure and adverse health effects. That report concluded the literature was inconsistent and deemed the issue of workplace aluminum exposure a complex one. 

Advocating for affected workers

Many miners treated with McIntyre Powder have suffered serious health effects from neurological disease to cancer. They suffered again under the WSIB’s Occupational Aluminum Exposure Policy which automatically denied compensation claims of workers exposed to aluminum who had developed neurologic effects including Parkinson’s, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The WSIB repealed this policy in June saying they were committed to exploring the issue. The repeal however is not retroactive and will not apply to workers with claims awaiting a decision.
In a strongly worded statement, Marty Warren, Director of United Steelworkers (USW) District 6 (Ontario and Atlantic Canada) said repeal of WSIB’s aluminum policy should apply retroactively to provide ill miners and their families with access to justice now. Calling the new study a stalling tactic, Warren said, “These workers were human guinea pigs. We have conducted intake clinics where we interviewed former miners, survivors and caregivers. Everyone came with a story about how breathing in the dust – so thick you couldn’t see – in closed rooms affected breathing, overall health and life expectancy.”   

Janice Martell (pictured in centre above with JP Mrochek, USW Local 6500, and Sylvia Boyce, USW District 6 Health, Safety & Environment Coordinator) has made it her life’s work to support affected miners and their survivors through the McIntyre Powder Project. The Project’s voluntary registry documents worker exposures and health impacts and builds support for new research into the long-term health impacts of work exposures and fair compensation. Martell’s father, Jim Hobbs, a former Elliot Lake miner, suffered from Parkinson’s disease, a condition she believes was associated with his workplace exposure to aluminum dust. Hobbs passed away earlier this year.
Martell agrees WSIB rescinding its aluminum policy is good news, but she thinks the new research, which will study neurological effects only, fails those miners who also suffer from respiratory disease and cancer. In an interview with the CBC Martell said, "The government went along with it [McIntyre Powder] because they need industry and the economy. I think we really need to change the way that we look at worker health and the value of that."
The Project and the USW invited the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers to participate in two occupational disease intake clinics for affected miners last year. To date there are more than 50 pending registered claims with WSIB related to McIntyre Powder exposure.
Other related resources:
McIntyre Powder Project seeks justice for exposed miners
Injured Workers' Online: A right to compensation – and to answers

WHSC offers a wide range of training programs and resources to help workplace parties understand their legal duties and responsibilities related to workplace hazards including the prevention of toxic exposures. Many of these resources also offer essential insight into the information and tools needed to eliminate or reduce harmful workplace and environmental exposures.
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