A new committee in Thunder Bay wants to know if mill workers are experiencing an unusually high rate of cancer.

Last week, the group sent a letter to all past and present employees of the pulp and paper mill in Thunder Bay, asking them to fill out a questionnaire about their health.

"We've noticed over the years a high rate of cancer, " said Bob Hoffman, spokesperson for the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union, one of four unions on the committee.

"In general [the cancer rate is high] in Thunder Bay, but it seems to be higher at certain areas of the mill," Hoffman said. 

Certain processes within pulp and paper mills appear to lead to higher cancer rates, Hoffman added, but they're difficult to trace since the types of cancer common among mill workers varies.

"It could be chemicals that were used in the past," Hoffman said. "Some of the machines we're concerned with no longer operate. The process has been very cleaned up in the past 10 to 20 years."

Along with the CEP, the International Union of Operating Engineers, the Office and Professional Employees International Union, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers are behind the survey. Resolute, the current owner of the mill is also part of the committee.

The Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers is collecting the data, so that health information is kept private.

Hoffman said there's no date set for results, since that'll depend on how quickly people respond.

The mill, at 2001 Neebing Avenue, Thunder Bay has operated under various names since it opened about a century ago, including: Great Lakes Paper, CPFP, Avenor, Bowater and Abitibi Bowater.