Aluminum dust exposure research update
Published Thursday, May 10, 2018 7:35PM EDT
McIntyre Powder or aluminum dust was a part of mining life in Timmins in the 1940’s.
For decades, miners there and around the world were told to inhale it as a way of fending off silicosis.
A Northern Ontario woman has been collecting data and having survivors tested for years now as part of the McIntyre Powder Project founded by Janice Martell.
Now, her efforts are being shored up with scientific evidence from a Laurentian University researcher.
Mining is a dirty and dangerous business, but in an era when silicosis was rampant, a Timmins based company developed a controversial solution.
McIntyre Powder was designed to prevent the debilitating disease, but Martell suspects it created even more problems.
"What happened to them was this massive public health experiment and it's awful. And I think that they deserve answers and that they deserve compensation." said Martell.
And that information is proving scarce.
She has begun to compile documents and testimonials from the over 27,000 miners exposed to the dust and has enlisted the help of Andrew Zarnke, a PHD candidate from Laurentian University.
"He's actually taken a canister of it, flown over to a specialized lab in Paris, France and had it analyzed to look at the content." said Martell.
Zarnke is investigating whether the dust was fine enough to enter the blood stream and make its way to the brain, calling McIntyre Powder an unknown substance.
"What are the size of the particles? What's the chemical structure? What's the mineral structure? What does the outside of the particles look like? And all these things can affect the way our body responds to them." said Zarnke.
While the method may seem barbaric today, Zarnke says there was evidence at the time that this might work.
"Aluminum is used as a flocculent and it's actually used to pull particles out of suspension. It's used to clean water. You pull those particles out, you remove them and then you refine that water and then it's cleaner and more drinkable. And in the lung, that's not happening." said Zarnke.
The LU researcher says 1940s science dictated decades of treatment.
Scientist now know that silicosis isn't solely caused by the solubility of silica, there are many factors at play.
He hopes to prove the powder had a more debilitating impact on miners and their lungs.