Two explosive reports recently released in New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy paint a damning picture of mining companies in Northern Ontario who exploited thousands of mine workers by way of exposure to McIntyre Powder (MP) in the workplace from 1943 to 1979, resulting in countless illnesses and deaths.
As a result of the longstanding injustices experienced by these mine workers, the McIntyre Powder Project (MPP) was founded in 2015 by Janice Martell, daughter of an Elliot Lake mine worker named Jim Hobbs, who developed Parkinson’s disease from McIntyre Powder exposure. The MPP is a voluntary registry to document miners’ health issues and experience with McIntyre Powder treatments.
The two articles written by Janice Martell and Tee Guidotti document the historical injustices inflicted on mine workers by their callous and criminal employers. The full text of the articles can be located here:
- “Breathe Deep, Boys: Voices of the McIntyre Powder Project Miners” New Solutions, Feb. 9, 2022
- “Trading One Risk for Another: Consequences of the Unauthenticated Treatment and Prevention of Silicosis in Ontario Miners in the McIntyre Powder Aluminum Inhalation Program” New Solutions v.31(4) 2022
The articles reveal that in 1940, human aluminum dust inhalation (MP) trials began in Timmins, Ontario, with assistance from the Ontario Workmen’s Compensation Board (1). The narrative pertaining to MP was controlled by mining interests for decades and there was no government oversight during this period. The authors explain how mine workers were advised by the company that deep inhales of the MP would protect their lungs from silicosis. Mine company executives preferred MP over providing more costly protective equipment and/or proper ventilation/dust control. Reports published by mine companies even boasted of their “strong” health and safety records. (2)
In order to keep workers’ compensation claims low, these same companies actively engaged in claim suppression, by offering financial incentives to prevent the initiation of workers’ compensation claims and by way of intimidation and coercion. (3)
The article’s findings from interviews with mine workers and their loved ones “repudiates the official narrative of the northern Ontario mining industry which continually – and in the face of contrary evidence – portrayed MP inhalation as safe and proven effective.” (4)
MP inhalation was said by miners to be involuntary, coercive (threat of job loss), distributed indiscriminately, without proper counsel, and many felt that they were guinea pigs.
As a result of increasing disease prevalence amongst workers caused by exposure to MP, a wildcat strike was initiated by United Steelworker members in 1974, which would eventually lead to the creation of Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act. By 1979, MP was no longer in use in Ontario. However, the damaging impacts for many was just beginning or not yet known.
A number of scientific studies have been conducted over the years, such as one from 2020, produced by the Occupational Cancer Research Centre, which reveals a statistically significant elevated risk of Parkinson’s disease for those exposed to MP.
As a result of the scientific research, in 2022, the WSIB added Parkinson’s disease as a new occupational disease in Schedule 3, meaning that the WSIB presumes that Parkinson’s disease is work-related, if there has been exposure to MP.
The issues outlined above confronting mine workers should not be looked at in a vacuum, as workers across the province are made ill on the job and have their lives cut short due to occupational disease as a result of employers putting profits over people. Only when the working class collectively mobilizes and fights back can systemic change be made to right these wrongs.
Please visit this webpage to learn more about occupational disease clusters in the province and contact information for those involved in the fightback: https://ofl.ca/advocacy-groups-odra/
(1) Trading One Risk, p. 424
(2) Breathe Deep, p.3
(3) Breathe Deep, p.3-4
(4) Breath Deep, p. 2