Workplace safety claims now being approved for miners who got sick from inhaling McIntyre Powder

Ontario’s Workplace Safety Insurance Board has started approving claims for former miners who were exposed to McIntyre Powder on the job and later developed Parkinson’s disease.

Recent research established a link between exposure to the powder and Parkinson’s disease

There are four known canisters of McIntyre Powder, that were used between 1943 and 1979. The white can pictured here is the original canister, labelled as 5 grams. The next two are labelled as 10 grams. The canister on the far right states: "For silicosis therapy. For use only under doctors direction" (Supplied/Janice Martell)

Ontario's Workplace Safety Insurance Board has started approving claims for former miners who were exposed to McIntyre Powder on the job and later developed Parkinson's disease.

In May, the WSIB released a study that concluded miners who were forced to inhale an aluminum powder before going to work are at a higher risk of Parkinson's disease.

The study was done by Dr. Paul Demers from the Occupational Cancer Research Centre.

The study specifically looked at the use of McIntyre Powder. Until 1979, it was common in Ontario mines for workers to have to inhale the powder before going to work. Mining companies said at the time the powder protected workers from silicosis. As a result of the study, the WSIB started to review previous claims.

Ray Mills had his claim approved this week. For 13 years, he worked at mines in Timmins and Elliot Lake. He says at the time, miners didn't think too much about it when they were put into a small room and the powder was sprayed from a can.

"It was smaller than a soup can," he said. "They would put a couple of them into the pipeline, the airline and then just blow the air and it would fill the room."

He says a first, the air would be really black.

"Not very nice," he said.

In 2015, Mills was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. He says at first he developed tremors, which he said he could live with.

"But it's not just tremors, a lot of things come with it," he said.

He says his balance has been affected.

Ray Mills had his claim with WSIB approved this week. (Submitted by Linda Mills)

"You get tired, but it's worse than tired, it's exhausting," he said. "Yet, I haven't done anything."

His wife, Linda, says Ray's diagnosis has been difficult.

"It's a terrible disease. It's very debilitating," she said. "To think now they've proven that it came from this McIntyre Powder is really great strides."

Having the claims approved is something Janice Martel has been waiting for. Her father, Jim Hobbs, died of Parkinson's disease in 2017. Martel began the campaign to have Parkinson's recognized as an occupational disease connected to McIntyre Powder.

"If you're exposed to toxins at work, there should be a national monitoring program to look at that," she said.

"If you're not looking at it, you can have all the science out there. But it's not going to be relevant in these working clusters."

Janice Martell of Sudbury continues to advocate for miners who were exposed to McIntyre Powder while working in northern Ontario mines between 1940s and the late 70s. They were told the dust would protect them, but many have developed health issues later in life. (Supplied)

Martell says she is still waiting to find out if the WSIB will approve her late father's claim. She says she's also working with the estates of miners who have already died to help them qualify for survivor's benefits.

Aaron Lazarus, the vice-president of communications with WSIB, says those affected should contact the WSIB directly. He says when it comes to claims involving McIntyre Powder and neurological conditions, there are about 60 files where a final decision has not been made.

He says decisions on the files were deferred until the report was released in May, which connected the use of the powder to Parkinson's.

Those applicants can now contact the WSIB and have the information from that report included in their claim.

"In relation to McIntyre Powder, the question has always been why and whether there is a connection," he said.

"It's something Janice Martel and the community raised. I have to say we all have the same questions as she did."

He says answering those questions is why the WSIB asked for a study to be done. He says now that the WSIB has that information, decisions can be made on worker's claims.

"Whenever anyone gets sick or hurt, it's natural to ask why and want to have an answer to that," he said.

"A lot of people have been waiting a lot of years to get an answer to this question and that's why we did the research that we did."

With files from Kate Rutherford


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