Sudbury

WSIB documents reveal which northern Ontario mines used McIntyre powder

Partners with McIntyre Powder project acquired documents from the Ontario Workers Safety Insurance Board, which detail which mines in northern Ontario used the aluminum dust, when they used it and which group of miners were exposed.

Janice Martell says details will be helpful for workers and their families

Janice Martell has been working on the McIntyre Powder Project for 4 years. Her late father developed Parkinson's Disease. Martell believes it was from the years he inhaled McIntyre Powder as a miner in Elliot Lake. (Angela Gemmill/CBC)

Janice Martell of Elliot Lake, Ont., has garnered some new information in her fight for compensation for miners who have fallen sick after inhaling aluminum dust.

More than three years ago, Martell began documenting evidence to prove the connection between McIntyre Powder and respiratory illnesses like silicosis.

Between 1943 and 1980 miners in Ontario inhaled the aluminum powder, as they were told it would protect their lungs while they worked underground.

In December, partners with the project were able to obtain historical documents from the Ontario Workers Safety Insurance Board, through a Freedom of Information request.

According to Martell, those documents were part of an Appendix to the Mining Master File. Up until 1987, Ontario had a record keeping system which included a health file on each mine worker in the province.

The pages include a list of which mines in the province used the McIntyre Powder, when they used it and which groups of miners would have been exposed.

Martell says when she first started the project she had compiled a list of licensees who could legally use McIntyre Powder in their respective mines. Companies had to acquire a license from the patented creators of the powder to legally use it. 

Martell says her initial list did not include the dates individual mines would have used the dust or which types of workers would have exposed.

"This document spells it out," she says. "It's frustrating to me that the WSIB had this for all this time."

"This [information] hasn't been disclosed before. I mean, it would be helpful in reaching some of the mine workers to let them know these were the areas where it was used."

Martell now hopes to reach out to anyone who worked at these sites or their families.

"There is a large portion of the mine workers who were exposed to this [powder] — who are already deceased. So when you're looking at the spouses, children or grandchildren, who may have known that their dad, their grandfather or their uncle worked at a particular mine, then we might be able to sort out whether it was likely that they were exposed to McIntyre Powder or not."

Recent statistics from the Occupational Cancer Research Centre, show 27,500 workers in Ontario were exposed to the aluminum dust between 1943 and 1980.

Martell says she plans to hold a couple of public information sessions in Elliot Lake and Timmins early in 2018 to provide miners and their families with some of the research she has uncovered.

"It's really important to me to ensure that they are informed."

About the Author

Angela Gemmill

Journalist

Angela Gemmill is a CBC journalist who has covered news in Sudbury, Ont., for 14 years. Connect with her on Twitter @AngelaGemmill. Send story ideas to angela.gemmill@cbc.ca