“The deadly dust that’s killing old miners” / Lindsay Kelly (Northern Life, Jan. 22, 2016)
Before starting his daily shift at the Quirke II uranium mine in Elliot Lake, Jim Hobbs was required to inhale a fine aluminum dust, known as McIntyre Powder. He was just one of many underground miners who, between 1943 and 1979, in Canada and around the world (U.S., Belgian Congo, Western Australia, and Mexico) were mandated to take and, at the end of the shift, cough up the black powder. In Ontario, the McIntyre Powder dissemination program was developed by the then Dept. of Health and Workers’ Compensation Board, in conjunction with mining executives. The practice – intended to protect against the crippling lung disease silicosis, source of a growing number of costly compensation claims – was discontinued when medical research showed a possible link to neurotoxicity.
In 1979 the CBC’s investigative program, The Fifth Estate, in “Powder Keg” (video) questioned the side-effects and continued use of this program. Subsequent studies have pointed to an association with cognitive decline and a higher risk of serious chronic illnesses. Yet recognition of compensation claims has been “spotty at best”. Jim Hobbs, diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease after 30 years working in northern Ontario nickel and uranium mines, had his claim denied.
Yet the issue, due in large part to the efforts of his daughter Janice Martell, has not been allowed to lie dormant. A followup program by the Fifth Estate (recently aired by the CBC on Jan. 29, 2016) focuses on her efforts to promote further research into the long-term health effects of such exposure. Her justice project, documented on the McIntyre Powder Project website, provides a centralized place to share information on health issues and a voluntary registry for miners affected.
Also assisting, Calvin Hinds, a student in the labour studies program at Laurentian University, doing outreach work for the McIntyre Powder Project at the Occupational Health Clinic for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) in Sudbury, and mining historian William Hamilton. United Steelworkers and OHCOW are hosting an intake clinic in Timmins on May 11 and May 12 for workers exposed to aluminum powder.
- McIntyre Powder Project (Facebook)
- “McIntyre Project to be featured on Fifth Estate” / Kevin McSheffrey (Elliott Standard, Jan. 28, 2016 )
- “Research on lingering effects of McIntyre Powder” / Ron Grech (Daily Press – Timmins, Nov. 9, 2015)
- Workers’ Health and Safety Centre. 2015 May 19. “McIntyre Powder Project Seeks Justice for Exposed Miners” (includes links to research studies)
- Peters, Susan et al. 2013. “Long-term Effects of Aluminium Dust Inhalation” Occupational & Environmental Medicine 70: 864-868