Nfld. & Labrador

Silica dust study welcomed; too late for some

Many workers and former employees at the mines in Labrador West are happy the government has approved a study on silica dust.
Clare Murphy says her husband Frank had to have the middle lobe of one of his lungs removed due to silicosis after working at IOC for 35 years. (CBC)

Past and current employees at the mines in Labrador West are happy the province has approved a study on the health effects of silica dust.

Frank Murphy worked for the Iron Ore Company of Canada for 35 years, and was diagnosed four years ago with silicosis.

Since his diagnosis, his wife Clare has been researching the disease and its effects.

"It was when [my husband] was diagnosed when I took a long, hard look at what this really was, and I didn't like what I saw," Murphy said.

She said the new study will hopefully enlighten people on the effects of silica dust.

"It may shed some lights on some other things that are not yet out there," Murphy said.

"And the education and the awareness that it's going to bring is of the utmost importance — especially to the employees that are presently [at the mines]."

Changes in education

In the early days of IOC, the dust was thick, but education about the effects was sparse.

"The dust was very thick, they were given paper masks as protection, which I guess you know as well as I do that that's not nearly adequate for this type of situation," Murphy said.

"And we weren't aware, really, of what this dust could do to a person's health."

Dust control has improved in many mines. But for some, including Clare Murphy's husband, it comes a little too late.

Frank Murphy eventually had to have the complete middle lobe of one of his lungs removed due to silicosis, dropping his lung capacity significantly.

"[Frank] still has the disease, there is no cure," Murphy said.

"And really, the only thing that we can hope for is that the puffers and the inhalers that he's got keep on working, and at least keep him stable."

IOC says workers should participate

The mining company is encouraging its workers to take part in the new study.

Heather Bruce-Veitch, IOC's manager of external relations, said it's important for workers to get tested for silicosis.

"We have spent a lot of effort, and continue to do so, in terms of insuring that employees understand health issues in our work place and in the community," Bruce-Veitch said.

"So again, we will certainly be communicating with [employees] that participating in this will help us all to learn a little bit more in terms of that issue."

She said the company was involved in the first study in 2000, and will continue to encourage employees to take part in similar studies.

"I hope that it will bring a level of confidence to all of us ... that what we have in place is appropriate, and if there are some learnings that can help to strengthen and improve what we are currently doing," Bruce-Veitch said.

The independent study will be conducted by the firm Morneau Shepell.

They will look at the health records of 2,000 past and present employees at IOC and Wabush Mines.