A project to set up a registry of workers exposed to asbestos at a Baie Verte Peninsula mine — which some miners and their union hope will ultimately lead to more former workers receiving compensation — is long overdue.
Gathering the miners' health information began in 2008. At the time, it was expected to take a year and a half.
The risks of asbestos exposure are well known. Inhaling the fibrous mineral can cause a chronic lung condition called asbestosis. It has also been shown to lead to different types of lung cancer, including one known as mesothelioma.
But a broad view of what has happened to the estimated 3,000 people who worked at the Baie Verte mine is not known.
Former miners and their union at the mine, which operated from the mid-1950s to the early 1990s, have been raising questions for decades.
Baie Verte strike
In 1977, miners went on strike for 14 weeks demanding measures to reduce the workers' exposure to asbestos particles.
The year before, the miners’ union brought in a physician known for his work on industrial disease, Dr. Irving Selikoff came to Newfoundland from the U.S. He examined more than 400 miners and concluded one in 10 working at the mine had an asbestos-related illness.
He predicted the effects of exposure to asbestos could take decades to manifest in others who were working in the mine at the time.
It's unclear if he was right because miners who worked at Baie Verte are now living across the province and the country.
A plan announced in 2008 promised to begin answering questions miners and their representatives at the United Steelworkers Union have asked.
According to a government news release at the time a Memorial University research unit called SafetyNet and Workplace, Health, Safety and Compensation Commission (WHSCC) would work together to build a registry detailing the health of former miners.
'My Grandfather worked there. He died seven years ago of the cancer… I loved him so much' — Miner's grandchild
As part of the project a website was built where former miner and their families could comment and reconnect.
They left comments like this:
"My name is Doli Dinel (Tobin). I am the daughter of Thomas Tobin and the contact for him. My dad and his family has suffered all of his life because of the illness he suffered from working at the mine in Baie Verte."
"Hi My Grandfather worked there. He died seven years ago of the cancer. I wish he was still alive. The day he died I had to come home from school. He was the best Grandfather I had ever had. I loved him so much."
Registry two-and-a-half years late
Work to create the registry was expected to take 18 months but almost four years later it hasn't been made public.
The work stalled when there was a complaint that researchers had access the medical files of some former mine workers without the workers' consent.
After the office of the province’s privacy commissioner and Memorial University reviewed what happened the work to create the registry continued.
SafetyNet gave its report to the government months ago.
A Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission spokesperson recently told CBC News in an email that the registry will be made public in Baie Verte this spring.
The union hopes the registry and SafetyNet’s report will lead to more people receiving compensation for injuries caused by exposure to asbestos.
Its officials have said that it is important to act quickly because some people who worked in the mine die every year.
Union officials have said for years that they don’t believe everyone who deserves compensation is receiving it. They hope the registry will help to broaden the definition of who is eligible for compensation.