Sudbury

Worker reflects on study proving mining dust and Parkinson's link

A former miner who was forced to breathe in a fine aluminum dust before each shift says he’s not surprised a new report links that dust and a higher risk of Parkinson’s disease.

WSIB says it’s working to review claims previously denied after Occupational Cancer Research Centre study

Until 1979, it was common for miners to inhale McIntyre Powder before going to work. New research from the Occupational Cancer Research Centre now proves there is a link between the powder and Parkinson's disease. (Supplied/Janice Martell)

A former miner who was forced to breathe in a fine aluminum dust before each shift says he's not surprised a new report links that dust to a higher risk of Parkinson's disease.

On Thursday, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board of Ontario released an independent study from the Occupational Cancer Research Centre that reveals miners exposed to McIntyre Powder before going to work are at a thirty percent higher risk of Parkinson's.

It was common practice from about 1943 until 1979 for workers to inhale the powder before going underground. Companies said it would prevent the lung disease, silicosis.

Miners in primarily gold and uranium mines in Ontario, other Canadian provinces, the United States, Belgian Congo, Western Australia, and Mexico were subjected to what companies called preventive treatments of McIntyre Powder.

Don Harrison was 24-years-old when he worked for a year at a mine in Elliot Lake in 1974. He says before each shift started, workers would go into a hallway, the doors would close and powder would be dispersed through the air.

"It plugged up your nose," he said. "I wouldn't say it was a sharp pain or anything like that but there was definite congestion. You did it because you were told to do it, and if you didn't do it, you went home."

He says he wondered at the time how the dust could be good for him and the other miners.

"It turned your clothes all black and your face was black," he said.

"You were told by a higher authority that it is, so you do it, or you walk home."

'I'm surprised I'm doing as well as I am'

In his 40s, Harrison was diagnosed with Parkinson's.

"So far, it hasn't affected me a whole lot," he said.

"I do have a shaky hand and a few other symptoms but I'm one of the lucky ones, it hasn't attacked me. I'm surprised I'm doing as well as I am."

Harrison says he wasn't surprised to hear the research found the link between the powder and Parkinson's

"Living in a mining town, you get to know a lot of people," he said.

"The older miners would have silicosis and the younger ones now are showing up with Parkinson's."

Harrison says his initial claim with WSIB was denied. The WSIB says those who had claims turned down in the past should contact the organization to have their case reviewed. Harrison says he plans to do that.

"We'll see what happens."

With files from Kate Rutherford

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