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Researcher seeking participants for McIntyre Powder study

A Laurentian University student will examine the emotional impact on miners exposed to aluminum dust while mining underground in Northern Ontario for her Master’s thesis.

A post-graduate health student at Laurentian University in Sudbury is studying the emotional impact on miners who were exposed to McIntyre Powder aluminum dust while working in Northern Ontario mines.

Danielle Aubin is conducting the research for her Master’s degree thesis in interdisciplinary health.

“For my research, I’m not looking at causation – what caused what. I’m looking to determine how it has impacted (miners) in their life being exposed to McIntyre Powder, so more looking at the emotional aspect of it,” Aubin said. “So, we’re going to get more in-depth information about it.”

McIntyre Powder was a finely ground aluminum dust developed by mine executives and administered to underground miners between 1943 and 1980 as a proposed preventive measure against silicosis.

It was later proven the powder was never effective as a prophylactic and the practice was discontinued.

However, miners who had been exposed and later developed a variety of health issues – everything from respiratory illnesses to neurological disorders – believe McIntyre Powder is a direct cause of their illnesses.

The Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) is currently undertaking research to see if a link can be made between those illnesses and McIntyre Powder.

Aubin said she has always had a strong interest in occupational health and chronic diseases, and so research on McIntyre Powder was a perfect fit.

She later learned of a direct, personal connection to the work.

“My dad’s in mining – he’s a heavy-duty mechanic – and it turns out he was exposed for one week,” Aubin said, noting her father was just starting out in the industry as the powder was being eliminated.

Yet, Aubin emphasized, her research will remain objective.

She’s seeking 16 to 20 volunteers who will partake in a 45-minute interview to find out more about their experiences being exposed to McIntyre Powder. Volunteers have to have worked underground in Northern Ontario and been exposed for at least one year continuously.

Every participant will be asked the same 16 questions about their time underground and their memories of being exposed to the powder. The process is entirely voluntary and completely confidential.

Aubin expects most participants will come from Timmins, Elliot Lake and Sudbury, and most will be those who worked in gold or uranium mines where use of the powder was most common.

“The Sudbury mines didn’t (use it), but a lot of the miners have immigrated this way because of the (mine) closures, so a lot of them are living (in Sudbury),” she said.

Although no funding is available for her work, Aubin said thanks to a sponsorship from OHCOW, she will be giving each participant a $5 gift card to Tim Hortons in gratitude for their participation.

“It’s not much, but it’s just to say thank you for taking the time,” she said.

Aubin’s work is being praised by Janice Martell, who launched the McIntyre Powder Project in 2014 after discovering her father, Jim Hobbs, had been exposed to the powder during his time as a miner.

Hobbs, who had spent more than 30 years working underground, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2001 and died of the illness at age 76 last May.

Eager to find answers for her father’s illness, Martell started researching McIntyre Powder in 2014, collecting names and histories of other miners who had been exposed on a voluntary registry. Her work later inspired the current research being done by OHCOW and that of Aubin’s Master’s thesis.

“It’s wonderful,” Martell said of Aubin’s work. “I’m so appreciative that she’s starting this.

Ideally, Aubin said, she’d like to complete all the interviews with participants as soon as possible, with the aim of having her thesis written this summer. She’ll then defend her thesis this fall and hopes to graduate by Christmas.

She’d also like to see her work published in academic journals, and believes that, whatever conclusions her work demonstrates, it will complement the research being done by OHCOW, furthering the understanding about McIntyre Powder that was first discovered by Martell.

“She’s a great inspiration to a lot of students,” Aubin said. “She’s come to present in some of my classes, and people are just amazed by what she has done.”

To participate in Danielle Aubin’s research study on McIntyre Power, former miners are urged to contact her at [email protected] or 1-800-461-4030, ext. 3972.


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Lindsay Kelly

About the Author: Lindsay Kelly

Lindsay Kelly is a Sudbury-based reporter who's worked in print and digital media for more than two decades. She joined the Northern Ontario Business newsroom in 2011.
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