Nearly 40 years after the Ontario mining sector ceased the practice of making workers inhale McIntyre Powder, the provincial government is planning to provide funding for a review of the powder’s long-term effects on miners’ health.
A news bulletin from the Ontario Ministry of Labour (MOL) stated on Oct. 11 that the province will provide a $1 million grant to the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW), which is conducting the review. OHCOW will assemble a team of health professionals to research whether past exposure to McIntyre Powder is connected to health issues. A proven connection would allow ill former miners to claim compensation from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.
A finely ground dust of aluminum oxide and aluminum, McIntyre Powder was once believed to prevent silicosis. From 1943 to around 1980, 45 Ontario mining companies exposed about 10,000 employees to the substance in a province-wide prevention program, according to information from the MOL. Today, OHCOW has 325 case files from current and former miners who were exposed to the powder, while another 195 have reported health effects to a voluntary registry run by the McIntyre Powder Project.
“In addition to this funding initiative, we have conducted a comprehensive mining safety review,” Ontario Labour Minister Kevin Flynn said in a press statement. “Implementation of its recommendations is well underway to further the health and safety of mine workers.
“It is critical that occupational diseases be treated with the same seriousness and importance as physical injuries,” added Flynn.
Marcelle Crouse, the province’s Acting Chief Prevention Officer, said in a statement that the grant would help to expand OHCOW’s capacity to address miners’ occupational illnesses.
“It is essential mine practices be safe and that controls are put in place to prevent dangerous exposure,” said Crouse. “We all have a shared responsibility to ensure workers are protected when they work in Ontario mines.”
McIntyre Powder Project founder Janice Martell thanked Flynn and his staff for working with her organization to research the health effects of the powder.
“This funding is critically important to enable the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers to process the large volume of information gathered from mine workers and their families by the McIntyre Powder Intake Clinics working group,” said Martell in a statement.
Martell founded the McIntyre Powder Project in 2015, after her father, Jim Hobbs, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease following years of exposure to the powder on the job. Hobbs died earlier this year in Elliot Lake, Ont. (COHSN, June 6).
There are currently about 40 underground mines and thousands of surface mines in Ontario, employing about 26,000 workers, according to the MOL.