Nfld. & Labrador

Privacy concern stalled N.L. asbestos study

A study into the health effects of asbestos exposure at a mine in central Newfoundland was suspended for more than half a year by fears that patient confidentiality was breached by researchers hired by Memorial University.

A study into the health effects of asbestos exposure at a mine in central Newfoundland was suspended for more than half a year by fears that patient confidentiality was breached by researchers hired by Memorial University.

The project, which government officials said Wednesday had been restarted recently, was originally expected to complete its work last spring but stalled when the work was suspended last winter.

The research was stopped after the Newfoundland and Labrador Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission and the Central Regional Health Authority learned that researchers hired by Memorial University collected data from hundreds of medical charts at the Baie Verte Health Centre without signed consent forms from the patients named on the charts.

Partners in the project to create a registry of former mine workers now expect it will be completed by early 2011.

According to a news release from the commission Wednesday, a review of the research by Memorial University of Newfoundland concluded that neither the leadership of the research team nor its employees violated research ethics standards and that the data was kept confidential, within the research team.

The commission said no confidential work history or health information obtained without consent will be included in the registry.

Registry tracks miners' health

The Baie Verte miners registry project was announced in July 2008.

Its goal is to collect data on the work history and health status of thousands of people who were employed at an asbestos mine near Baie Verte between 1955 and 1995.

Decades of research have shown that asbestos exposure can cause lung diseases, such as asbestosis and cancers such as mesothelioma.

The United Steelworkers union has said that at least 140 former Baie Verte asbestos miners have developed some form of cancer.

A commission official told CBC News that it has reviewed approximately 160 occupational disease claims associated with the Baie Verte Mine.

That official said that approximately 56 occupational disease claims associated with the Baie Verte Mine were accepted and that there are four pending claims in various stages of investigation.

"A number of claims have not been accepted by the commission because there was no medical evidence indicating that the worker had an illness or occupational disease," wrote commission spokesman Chris Flanagan in an email.

"In many cases, workers filed a claim as a means of informing the commission that they were likely exposed to asbestos. In the absence of illness, disease, lost time or injury, the commission does not accept claims."

The Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission, the United Steelworkers Union representing former mine workers workers, the Baie Verte Peninsula Miners' Action Committee and the SafetyNet Centre for Occupational Health and Safety Research of Memorial University have all participated in the registry project.