Workers at the General Electric plant in Peterborough, Ontario were exposed to more than 3,000 toxic chemicals, including at least 40 known or suspected human carcinogens. These are the findings of the retrospective exposure study released last Thursday by UNIFOR and prepared by occupational disease researchers Robert DeMatteo (former director of health and safety for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union) and Dale DeMatteo, together with GE Retiree Members of the Advisory Committee.
Collecting information on and analyzing work processes for each department at the electrical production facility between 1945 and 2000, the project documents associated chemical exposure risks, possibly linked with the various cancers and other diseases that many GE employees and their families have suffered over the years. Information was provided by workers themselves and corroborated by government inspection reports, joint health and safety committee minutes, internal memoranda, and occupational health literature reviews.
Scientific “evidence” and occupational disease recognition
Noting that only a small fraction of accepted workers’ compensation claims are for occupationally caused diseases, the report discusses identified barriers to recognition of workplace disease, pointing in particular to “the onerous burden of proof placed on the worker coupled with an outdated view of how diseased is produced by work.” Also addressed – the limitations and misuses of the science of epidemiology and the misrepresentation of epidemiological study results (p.10 and Addendum 2) .
In response to the report, Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn vowed Ontario will do the “right thing” for GE workers and seek an “expedited” settlement process for those still struggling to have claims accepted. No budget or deadline has yet been set. An earlier Toronto Star article reports Ontario aims to have a dedicated occupational disease response team in place by the end of the year.
(Sue James, a retired Peterborough GE worker, will be one of the panellists in the June 1st session “Fighting back against toxic and unsafe work” – see details )
- DeMatteo, Robert & Dale DeMatteo. 2017 May. Report of the Advisory Committee on Retrospective Exposure Profiling of the Production Processes at the General Electric Production Facility in Peterborough, Ontario 1945-2000. Toronto: UNIFOR
- Ferguson, Rob, Laurie Monsebraaten & Sara Mojtehedzadeh. 2017 May 19. “Ontario Vows to Help Ailing GE Workers.” Toronto Star
- Injuredworkersonline.org (blog) 2016 Dec. 19. “We Went From Not Knowing to Not Caring.”