For 20 years, miners sickened by toxic aluminum dust couldn’t file compensation claims.
Some 27,000 gold and uranium miners in northern Ontario were routinely blasted with McIntyre Powder, an aluminum-based prophylaxis sold as an apparent antidote to lung disease.
It was designed, historical documents suggest, by industry-sponsored Canadian scientists bent on slashing compensation costs in gold and uranium mines across the north — with no testing for potential negative health impacts on humans.
Janice Martell filed the freedom of information request and is the daughter of Jim Hobbs, an Elliot Lake miner who developed Parkinson’s disease. Hobbs died in 2017 without receiving compensation for his degenerative disease. The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) revoked its aluminum policy that same year, paving the way for future claims. The board will not reopen past cases.
“We have the same questions as many miners and their families and want to help find answers based on scientific evidence,” said Christine Arnott, WSIB spokesperson to The Star, adding that the board’s decisions on McIntyre Powder claims are now being made on the most current available research.
“Unfortunately, today there is no conclusive scientific evidence linking McIntyre Powder to neurological diseases. But questions remain, which is why we have engaged researchers from the Occupational Cancer Research Centre (OCRC) to look at the use of McIntyre Powder in Ontario mines and if there is evidence of a connection to neurological conditions in miners exposed to it,” Arnott said.
“We expect the OCRC research will be an important addition to the existing science on this subject and we are hopeful it will help provide clear answers for everyone.”
Strong evidence links aluminum to Alzheimer´s disease
Recent research conducted in the United Kingdom found “strong evidence” linking aluminum to Alzheimer’s disease when absorbed into the bloodstream.
Martell’s Toronto-based lawyer Antony Singleton said the board’s 20-year aluminum policy was a “totally unwarranted deviation from a fundamental principle of workers’ compensation law, namely that each worker’s claim is adjudicated on the basis of the ‘merits and justice’ of their individual case.”
Martell is waiting for more documents to be released through her freedom of information request, which has cost her more than $7,000. Her application for a fee waiver, which can be granted on matters of public health and safety, was denied by the compensation board. Martell paid $1,000 out of her own pocket and crowdfunded the rest.