The province has announced $1 million in funding for research into the impacts of aluminum dust exposure on underground miners.
On Oct. 11, the Ministry of Labour announced the funds would go to the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) to establish a team of occupational and medical health professionals that will “determine whether the health issues of some former miners are related to the use of McIntyre Powder.”
The information can then be used to make claims to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) for potential compensation, the ministry said.
“Mine workers can be exposed to a number of contaminants leading to occupational disease. This grant will help support and expand OHCOW’s capacity and expertise to address occupational illnesses as it relates to issues with miners past and present,” Labour Minister Kevin Flynn said in a news release.
“It is essential mine practices be safe and that controls are put in place to prevent dangerous exposure. We all have a shared responsibility to ensure workers are protected when they work in Ontario mines.”
McIntyre Powder was finely ground aluminum dust that underground miners were obligated to inhale prior to their shifts as a condition of their employment. It was widely used at mines across Canada, the United States, Belgian Congo, Western Australia, and Mexico.
Exposed miners who later developed serious health conditions attribute the dust to their poor health, but because of a lack of existing scientific evidence, cannot receive compensation from the province.
Research into the long-term health impacts of McIntyre Powder was begun by Janice Martell, whose father, Jim Hobbs, was a miner in uranium mines in Northern Ontario. Following retirement, Hobbs developed Parkinson’s disease, an illness to which he succumbed earlier this year.
Martell established the McIntyre Powder Project in an effort to gather the health and work records of other miners with the goal of finding out answers and eventually getting compensation for those workers. Since then, OHCOW and a number of other research organizations have become involved.
To date, more than 300 miners’ names have been added to the McIntyre Powder Project database.
“This funding is critically important to enable the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers to process the large volume of information gathered from mine workers and their families by the McIntyre Powder Intake Clinics working group,” Martell said in a news release.
“I thank Minister Flynn and his staff for working with us to find answers about the health effects of aluminum dust exposure on the affected mine workers.”
The province noted that 45 mining companies were licensed to use McIntyre Powder from 1943 to 1980 in Ontario, with an estimated 10,000 mine workers exposed to the powder during the program.