Miner’s pow­der tar­get of $1M study


For Jan­ice Martell, the fund­ing an­nounce­ment is a val­i­da­tion of her ef­forts over the past three years.

On Wednesday, the On­tario Min­istry of Labour an­nounced it will com­mit $1 mil­lion in fund­ing to help de­ter­mine a link be­tween neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­eases in for­mer gold and ura­nium min­ers and the alu­minum dust, which many of them were di­rected to in­hale un­der the be­lief that it would pro­tect them from lung dis­ease.

“It’s been frus­trat­ing that it took this long but I’m grateful,” Martell said. “I think the in­for­ma­tion that we gather is going to pro­vide a good a piece of the puz­zle to look at whether or not ex­po­sure to the McIn­tyre Pow­der may have caused health is­sues.”

The Min­istry of Labour, in its fund­ing an­nounce­ment Wednesday said the Oc­cu­pa­tional Health Clin­ics for On­tario Work­ers will use the money 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. These work­ers could then use this in­for­ma­tion to make claims to the Work­place Safety and In­sur­ance Board (WSIB) for po­ten­tial com­pen­sa­tion.

Martell said Oc­cu­pa­tional Health Clin­ics for On­tario Work­ers has 400 case files of min­ers ex­posed to McIn­tyre Pow­der. At least half of those for­mer min­ers, she added, were em­ployed in Tim­mins. May oth­ers are from Sud­bury and other com­mu­ni­ties in north­easter On­tario.

An­other 195 work­ers have re­ported health ef­fects (par­tic­u­larly neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­ders like de­men­tia) to a vol­un­tary reg­istry main­tained by the McIn­tyre Pow­der Pro­ject

Martell started rais­ing aware­ness about the po­ten­tial ef­fects of McIn­tyre Power on min­ers who were ex­posed to it after her father, Jim Hobbs, de­vel­oped Parkin­son’s dis­ease.

Hobbs worked at the Quirke II ura­nium mine in El­liot Lake where the pow­der was used ex­ten­sively.

Martell’s in­abil­ity to get work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tion for her father, claim­ing her father’s de­te­ri­o­rat­ing health was due to or ag­gra­vated by his in­hala­tion of McIn­tyre Pow­der when he was em­ployed, prompted her in 2014 to start up a re­search ini­tia­tive fo­cused on the his­toric use of alu­minum pow­der in gold and ura­nium mines.

Hobbs died in May 2017 at the Es­panola Nurs­ing Home at the age of 76.

As part of the McIn­tyre Pow­der Pro­ject, Martell, with sup­port from United Steel­work­ers union and Oc­cu­pa­tional Health Clinic for On­tario Work­ers, has hosted sev­eral in­take clin­ics in Tim­mins and Sud­bury.

The goal of the clin­ics was to hear from min­ers and their fam­i­lies and col­lect as much data as pos­si­ble to re­in­force the link be­tween McIn­tyre Pow­der and neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­eases af­fect­ing min­ers who were ex­posed to alu­minum dust.

The pow­der, which Martell be­lieves contributed to her father get­ting Parkin­son’s dis­ease, was de­vel­oped by the McIn­tyre Mine in Tim­mins and sold to other min­ing companies with the be­lief that it would pro­tect the un­der­ground work­ers from lung dis­ease. It was thought that coat­ing min­ers’ lungs with alu­minum dust would pro­tect them from con­tract­ing sil­i­co­sis.

Forty-five min­ing companies were li­censed to use McIn­tyre Pow­der from 1943 to about 1979 in On­tario, with an es­ti­mated 10,000 mine work­ers ex­posed to the pow­der dur­ing the pro­gram.

Gold and ura­nium mines across Canada, the United States, the Bel­gian Congo, West­ern Aus­tralia, and Mex­ico adopted the use of this pow­der. But mines stopped us­ing it around the same time that re­search be­gan point­ing at the pos­si­bil­ity that long-term ex­po­sure to alu­minum could dam­age the ner­vous sys­tem.

The Work­place Safety and In­sur­ance Board re­cently ini­ti­ated a study to re­view the ex­ist­ing sci­en­tific ev­i­dence to ex­am­ine whether work­ers with oc­cu­pa­tional ex­po­sure to alu­minum have an in­creased risk of de­vel­op­ing ad­verse health con­di­tions, in­clud­ing neu­ro­log­i­cal con­di­tions. The re­port, which was pre­sented to the board in April, was in­con­clu­sive.

WSIB sub­se­quently an­nounced it would ex­plore the is­sue, en­gag­ing re­searchers from the Oc­cu­pa­tional Cancer Re­search Cen­tre to con­duct an­other in­de­pen­dent study.

Martell said she feels WSIB waited to act only un­til there was grow­ing pub­lic aware­ness and pres­sure to look into the is­sue.

She said a re­port pre­sented by the In­dus­trial Dis­ease Ad­vi­sory Panel to the WSIB in 1992, which failed to prove McIn­tyre Pow­der caused health is­sues, con­ceded neu­ro­toxic af­fects of alu­minum ex­po­sure. Martell said it should have at least raised a red flag, spurring fur­ther re­search.

“Why in 1992 did they not push or go to the Min­istry of Labour and say you need to fund some stud­ies on this. They just dropped the ball.

“The WSIB would deny com­pen­sa­tion for neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­eases based on in­suf­fi­cient med­i­cal and sci­en­tific ev­i­dence. But then they didn’t look to see if there was a pos­si­bil­ity to there be­ing a prob­lem here.

“They have the means to look into it be­cause they own the min­ing master record sys­tem, they own the min­ing master files, they knew who was ex­posed and who wasn’t. They could do clin­i­cal follow-ups. But they didn’t.”


Jan­ice Martell, who spear­headed the McIn­tyre Pow­der Pro­ject study­ing the ef­fects of alu­minum dust on gold and ura­nium min­ers, is seen here in May 2016, leaf­ing through a me­mo­rial al­bum that was cre­ated as part of the McIn­tyre Pow­der In­take Clinic held in Tim­mins. The al­bum has pho­tos and in­for­ma­tion about min­ers who died from med­i­cal con­di­tions sus­pected to have been caused by their re­peated ex­po­sure to alu­minum dust.

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