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WSIB study finds link between use of McIntyre Powder in Ontario mines and risk of Parkinson's

A new study facilitated by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board of Ontario states miners who were forced to inhale an aluminum powder were found to have a higher risk of Parkinson’s disease.

Northern Ontario woman pushed for the research inspired by her father's experience

Mining companies mandated miners inhale the fine aluminum dust known as McIntyre Powder to prevent silicosis. Miners were gathered in small rooms where the air was flooded with the dust. A new report by Ontario's WSIB now proves there is a link between inhaling the powder and and increased risk of developing Parkinson's disease. (CBC)

A new study facilitated by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board of Ontario states miners who were forced to inhale an aluminum powder before going to work are at a higher risk of Parkinson's disease.

The study focused on the use of McIntyre Powder.

Until 1979, it was common practice in Ontario mines for workers to be put in a secure area and have McIntyre Powder, a fine aluminum dust, blown into the air. Mining companies said at the time the powder protected workers from silicosis.

On Thursday, the WSIB released a study it started in August of 2017 with Dr. Paul Demers from the Occupational Cancer Research Centre.

The WSIB says the study "shows a statistically significant increased risk of Parkinson's disease in McIntyre Powder-exposed miners compared with miners with no McIntyre Powder exposure."

It also states the study "didn't show an association between McIntyre Powder exposure and other neurological diseases, including Alzheimer's disease and Motor Neuron Disease."

As a result, the WSIB says it will review previous claims made involving McIntyre Powder and those impacted will be entitled to compensation.

'Everything I've worked for'

The results of the study are something Janice Martell has been waiting for.

She established the McIntyre Powder Project to try to prove there was a potential link between inhaling the powder and neurological disease. Her father, Jim Hobbs, died in 2017 of Parkinson's disease. He inhaled the powder while working as a miner.

Janice Martell is the founder of the McIntyre Powder Project. (Supplied/Janice Martell)

"This is everything I've worked for," she said. "The project was to try and find out did this McIntyre Powder do harm? What kind of harm did it do? And it means that my dad got Parkinson's because of the McIntyre Powder exposure."

Martell says she's waited a long time to get answers on this.

Jim Hobbs, Janice Martell's father, is the inspiration behind the McIntyre Powder Project. Hobbs died in May 2017. (Yvon Thériault/Radio-Canada)

"The one person I want to tell the most is my dad and he's not here to tell," she said.

"I feel inside that he knows. And there's a bunch of miners dancing in heaven, I can tell you that much."

Getting compensation

Martell says this is the first study that proves the connection. The WSIB says the study was done by looking at historical records in the agency's Mining Master File which has information on more than 90,000 miners in Ontario. The information includes the miner's work history and exposure to the powder.

Martell has been working to have the WSIB change how it handles claims involving McIntyre Powder. Up until 2017, the agency excluded claims in connection with the powder.

The WSIB says it will now move forward "as quickly as possible to review each claim waiting for a decision as well any new claims that come in, based on the relevant findings of the study and the individual merits of the claim so we can provide people with any compensation to which they may be entitled."

Those affected will be contacted by WSIB when a decision has been made on their claim. The WSIB says those who had previous claims denied connected to McIntyre Powder should contact them to have their case reviewed.

With files from Kate Rutherford

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