Nfld. & Labrador

Justice sought with new asbestos registry

A union is demanding changes to eligibility criteria that prevented many Newfoundland asbestos miners from receiving compensation.

Most Baie Verte asbestos miners who applied for compensation were ruled ineligible

The union representing people who worked at a notorious asbestos mine on Newfoundland's Baie Verte Peninsula is demanding changes to eligibility criteria that prevented most of them from receiving compensation.

The United Steelworkers union says health information gathered by the Baie Verte miners' registry shows people who were unfairly denied for compensation to exposure to asbestos.

"Nobody should have had to be exposed to what they were exposed to, and it's now well recognized," said Andy King, the former director of the Steelworkers' health, safety and environment department.

"Let's try to do some justice."

Registry recently completed

The registry is an electronic database of more than 1,000 people who worked at the mine between 1955 when a huge asbestos deposit was discovered, and 1995 when the mine closed permanently.

Among other things, the registry found that 109 former miners had asbestos-related diseases such as lung cancer and asbestosis. Another 56 had gastrointestinal cancers, possibly related to asbestos exposure.

Over the weekend, residents of the Baie Verte area had the opportunity to speak with creators of the registry and ask questions about what it found.

The asbestos mine in Baie Verte, seen during the early 1980s, finally closed in 1995. (CBC )

The Steelworkers will be meeting this week with officials of the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission.

King said many people in the registry were unfairly treated. While 145 miners made claims to the commission, 100 — or more than two thirds of them — were denied compensation.

King said compensation was denied in some cases because of how the rules were structured. For instance, he said compensation was denied to workers who might have received the maximum exposure over just a few months.

"If you can't provide some level of justice for those, how can people whose experience is perhaps less clear have confidence that the system will address their needs today?" King said in an interview.

In 1977, workers at the mine waged a 14-week strike that was unusual in that it focused largely on occupational safety.