The following story was printed in the The Daily Press (Timmons) on Thursday, March 2nd, 2017
By Ron Grech
TIMMINS – There are now 325 retired miners who have added their names to a provincial registry reporting health problems possibly stemming from past exposure to aluminium dust.
At least half of those miners, worked at operations based in Timmins.
The Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers, which has compiled the registry, is trying to establish a link between the use of McIntyre Powder and neurological health problems which many of these miners later developed.
This initiative had been largely spearheaded by Janice Martell, an Elliott Lake resident whose 76-year-old father Jim, a former miner, is now struggling with Parkinson’s disease, which Martell believes stems from his exposure to the aluminium dust.
“The psychological impact of having to inhale aluminium dust and not knowing if this was going to harm your health, just in order to feed your family, it’s just so disgusting what happened to these mining families,” said Martell.
McIntyre Powder aluminium dust was developed at the old McIntyre Mine. It was finely ground aluminium which miners were required to inhale under the belief it would protect them from silicotic lung disease.
From 1943 to approximately 1979, gold and uranium mines across Canada, the United States, the Belgian Congo, Western Australia and Mexico adopted the use of this powder.
The practise ended after an increasing number of research papers suggested a link to neurotoxicity affecting the human nervous system.
Martell’s inability to get compensation for her father prompted her to start up the McIntyre Powder Project, which is a research initiative.
Her initiative has attracted the interest of researchers who have invited her to speak to scientists and students about her findings at a couple of conferences this month.
“On March 7, I (along with OHCOW) will be presenting the McIntyre Powder Project work to an international group of scientific researchers at the 12th Keele Meeting on Aluminium in Vancouver B.C.,” said Martell.
She is booked to make a 15-minute presentation which will be followed by a discussion.
“The presentation will focus on the database/registry of aluminium dust-exposed workers being compiled by the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers.”
Martell said, “There are all kinds of researchers from everywhere going to be there including Mexico; and Mexico is one of the places where the aluminium dust was used. I am really anxious to meet some of the other researchers who know about the use of aluminium dust in the mines.”
Then on March 23, “I will be the speaker at the McMaster University Labour Studies program’s Speakers’ Series,” said Martell.
The title of her speech at McMaster is: “50 Guinea Pigs, 13 Rabbits, 20,000 Miners: The McIntyre Powder Experiment.”
“It reflects the fact this was basically a giant industrial disease experiment on miners,” explained Martell.
She said she will have an hour-and-a-half time slot in the afternoon; 45 minutes will be for the presentation on my project work, and 45 minutes will be for discussion and Q&A. I am really excited about this as it will be the first time that a public audience will be invited to learn about what happened to these mine workers.”
Martell said it is a big boost to their cause to raise awareness while OHCOW continues to research and tries to establish a definitive connection between exposure to McIntyre Powder and the neurological diseases which affected many of the miners who were told to inhale the dust when they went underground.
“We’re not at the point right now where we can state that (there is a definitive connection) but they are starting the investigation so we’re at the point where the ball is going to start rolling that way. OHCOW has interviewed and are hiring two bioinformaticians from the University of Toronto who are going to be analyzing the data that was collected at the intake clinics.”
The OHCOW held two intake clinics in Timmins last year as well as one in Sudbury.
Martell said they are continuing to invite miners who were exposed to aluminium dust to come forward and add their names to the voluntary registry.
“We gather basic information about their mining history, what health issues they have, if they have WSIB claims, that sort of thing,” she explained.
Martell said there are people from Timmins on the registry who reported being exposed to aluminium dust when they worked at the McIntyre, Dome, Hollinger, Aunor, Halnor, Paymaster, Pamour, and Buffalo Ankerite, among others.
Anyone wanting more information about the McIntyre Powder Project, can contact Martell at 1-800-461-7120, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.