Manitoba

Former Weston School student wonders if his cancer linked to lead levels in soil

A Winnipeg man wants to know if the high lead levels found in the soil around his old stomping grounds — Weston School — caused his prostate cancer.

Pat Werestiuk wants province to survey past and present residents exposed to lead

Pat Werestiuk visits the street where he grew up in Weston. (Marianne Klowak)

A Winnipeg man wants to know if the high lead levels found in the soil around his old stomping grounds — Weston School — caused his prostate cancer.

The disease was almost unheard of when Pat Werestiuk was growing up on Gallagher Street in the 1950s and '60s, eating vegetables out of his mother's backyard garden. 

"I remember when I was younger, one of the families living right close had a son who died of cancer and he was very young, 18 or 19. And it blew us all away because cancer wasn't a big thing back then," said Werestiuk.

Now, several of Werestiuk's childhood friends have or have died from cancer.

Weston closed its sports field for about a week at the beginning of this school year, after reports dating back to 2009 and 2011 were obtained by CBC News. 

"It appears that Weston School has a unique problem with respect to lead, but the reason for this is not known," the report states.

At the sports field for Weston School — an elementary school located just off of Logan Avenue and 280 metres south of a now-closed smelter site — 19 soil samples came back with results that exceeded CCME guidelines.

Recess is on hold for students at Weston Elementary School as an investigation begins into lead contamination in its sports field. (John Einarson/CBC)

In 1976 and 1979, elevated blood lead levels were found in some of the children attending Weston and Lord Nelson Elementary Schools in Winnipeg. Some remedial work was done in the 1980s which included the replacement of soil, laying down cement, and the removal of lead paint.. More sod was laid last week as Weston School prepared to reopen its field.

Werestiuk still has questions. He wants the province to survey past and present Weston residents for health concerns.

In 2010, after getting surgery, a naturopath suggested he get a heavy metal test. He was shocked by the results: off-the-chart levels of lead and mercury in his bloodstream.

Pat Werestiuk was shocked by the results of his heavy-metal test: off-the-chart levels of lead and mercury. (Submitted/Pat Werestiuk)

"Having that test done and show my lead levels are so high, my concern is twofold. I am concerned for myself, but I am concerned right now for all the children in the area," he said. "It blows me away they knew about this so long ago and nothing has been done, nothing."

Werestiuk has asked the province to fund chelation therapy, which purports to rid the body of heavy metals by flushing them out intravenously. It's available under Saskatchewan health insurance.

But he says Manitoba Health denied his request, which would cost around $3,000.

"That would be a hard hit for anyone wanting to rid themselves of lead or any toxic metal," he said.

A provincial spokesperson said they couldn't comment on a Werestiuk's personal health information.

But, he said, a doctor could order testing for blood lead levels; it would be covered by Manitoba Health.

Sites previously identified will be retested in October, with results expected to be released in December, the spokesperson said.

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