Report reveals decades of toxic chemical exposure at GE plant

Workers at a General Electric (GE) facility in Peterborough, Ont. were exposed to more than 3,000 toxic chemicals for more than half a century, with some employees developing terminal diseases, according to an explosive study by the Advisory Committee on Retrospective Exposures.

Authored by occupational-health researchers Bob and Dale DeMatteo and published on May 18, The Report of the Advisory Committee on Retrospective Exposure Profiling of the Production Processes at the General Electric Production Facility in Peterborough, Ontario 1945-2000 revealed that workers had been exposed to at least 40 confirmed or suspected carcinogens from the end of World War II to the turn of the century.

The 183-page report was released at a media conference at Peterborough’s Royal Canadian Legion branch on the afternoon of May 18, according to a press release from Unifor, a national union that represents more than 310,000 workers. Former GE employee Sue James and Unifor national representative Joel Carr joined the authors at the event, which was attended by other GE retirees and relatives of deceased claimants.

“These GE workers have suffered horrific and often terminal diseases at a disproportionate rate, yet approximately half of the compensation claims filed have been rejected, abandoned or withdrawn due to what was deemed to be insufficient proof,” said Carr. “This report provides much needed evidence to allow the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board to reopen and support these claims.”

James said that many of her former GE colleagues had died, including her father, a longtime employee who had developed tumours in his lung and spine.

“I’ve seen the results. I’ve been to the funerals,” said James.

Unifor plans to present the study to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), Ontario’s workers’ compensation authority. The union claimed in a separate release that 31 of its members were former GE employees with WSIB claims for work-related illnesses, including cancer.

The DeMatteos wrote in the report introduction that the study was intended to address GE employees’ concerns that their working conditions had been misrepresented and ignored.

“The major source of this information came from the workers themselves, through a series of intensive focus group[s] and key informant interviews that went on for over eight months,” the report read. “This information was corroborated by government inspection reports… in addition to joint health and safety committee minutes, internal memoranda and industrial-hygiene literature.”

“This report provides a powerful narrative of what the workers, and the community, already know to be true,” said Carr in a statement.

The Report of the Advisory Committee on Retrospective Exposure is available online at

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