In January 2022, the Ontario government announced that Parkinson’s Disease will formally be recognized as an illness caused by McIntyre Powder (an aluminum powder), which was involuntarily inhaled by thousands of mine workers in multiple locations across Northern Ontario and across the globe from the 1943 to 1979.
This victory comes after years of struggle between injured workers and their families against the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). The campaign that pushed the WSIB to announce this recent change was spearheaded by Janice Martell, the daughter of a mine worker named Jim Hobbs from Elliot Lake, who developed Parkinson’s disease as a result of exposure to McIntyre Powder.
The tireless efforts and advocacy by Martell and others culminated in a 2020 study from the Occupational Cancer Research Centre that revealed a statistically significant increased risk of Parkinson’s disease in McIntyre Powder-exposed miners, compared to miners without exposure to McIntyre Powder.
As a result of this report, the WSIB now classifies Parkinson’s disease as a new occupational disease in Schedule 3. This means that the WSIB presumes that the development of Parkinson’s disease from exposure to McIntyre Powder is work-related, unless the contrary can be shown. Ultimately, this will allow for the speedier resolution and increased acceptance of WSIB claims for those who develop Parkinson’s from exposure to McIntyre Powder.
On one hand, this is certainly a step forward for many who have been exposed and developed Parkinson’s disease due to exposure to McIntyre Powder, but on the other hand, justice has been unnecessarily delayed, many lives have been cut short and many others may not be able to receive what they are entitled to due to the fact that medical and employment records from 40 plus years ago may no longer exist.
Moving forward, the fight for justice for workers made ill on the job continues, as many occupational diseases are not yet formally recognized by the WSIB. To that end, the Occupational Disease Reform Alliance was formed some months ago to connect advocates from disease clusters across the province who are fighting for those made ill on the job.
For more information, please visit: https://ofl.ca/advocacy-groups-odra/