An Elliott Lake woman is looking for former miners who were exposed to McIntyre Powder, an aluminum dust that miners were told for decades to breathe in to protect their lungs. 

Companies had a program in place in gold and uranium mines between 1944 and 1979 meant to protect miners' lungs from silicosis, an incurable lung disease caused by inhaling tiny bits of silica.

Janice Martell, the daughter of a miner who has Parkinson's disease, wants to talk to former miners who have been exposed to the dust. If there's a big enough group, she'd like to see more research done on whether McIntyre's Powder causes neuro-degenerative diseases.

There are no studies concluding that aluminum dust causes Parkinson's, nor any proof the powder helped.

Martell, who has set up a Facebook page for her project, said her father was told to breathe in a fog of aluminum dust for two years at an Elliot Lake mine.

"If we gather enough people together in one place, saying hey, there are some concerns here, maybe it will stimulate the medical research that they need in order to get the compensation they deserve," she said. 

Miner concerns

Some miners question the powder's use.

Tom Jeffery worked underground at Rio Algom in Elliott Lake for 23 years and breathed the dust in before every shift.

Tom Jeffery

Tom Jeffery was exposed to McIntyre Powder at Rio Algom mines. It did not protect him; he has silicosis. (Kate Rutherford/CBC)

"At night time when you go home and after work, and you're coughing up this black garbage, it makes you wonder, and we questioned it," he said. "The company kept saying, 'No, this is a government thing and there's no harm in it.'"

The dust didn't prevent Jeffery from getting silicosis.

Dave Mellor, who was the steelworkers local union president at Denison Mines in Elliot Lake in the 70s, was treated with powder over eight years. 

"Just the sight of it would tell anyone, I believe, with any common sense, that it couldn't do your insides any good," he said. 

Asked about compensation, Ontario's Workplace Safety and Insurance Board said there is inadequate scientific evidence to link exposure to aluminum to diseases such as Parkinson's. ​

The board encourages people who believe their health is related to work exposure to call them directly at 1-800-387-0750.