Miners who inhaled McIntyre Powder now guaranteed WSIB benefits
After years of calling on the Ontario government to acknowledge the destructive health impacts of McIntyre Powder on miners who were forced to inhale it to keep their jobs, those affected will now have easier access to occupational illness benefits.
The province's labour minister, Monte McNaughton, announced Wednesday that Parkinson's disease will be formally recognized as an illness caused by the aluminum powder inhaled on the job.
That means miners and their families will be automatically approved for related claims to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).
Janice Martel has been advocating for this through the McIntyre Powder Project and said this is a major victory.
"It wouldn't have happened had people not stood up and said, 'yes, I was affected by this.' So I'm very grateful to them," said Martell, adding McNaughton called her directly to share the news.
"He said, 'I'm sorry that your dad went through this and I'm sorry that it took you so many years and this wouldn't have happened without what you were doing.'"
A PERSONAL MISSION
Martell's father, Jim Hobbs, was one of the miners exposed to the powder and developed Parkinson's. He died in 2017 while waiting for the results of his WSIB claim.
McIntyre Powder was developed in the late 1930s at the McIntyre Research Foundation in Timmins, funded by local mining executives. It was meant to prevent the lung disease silicosis in mine workers, caused by breathing in silica dust while underground.
Used from the early 1940s to 1980, miners around the world were required to breathe in the fine-ground aluminum dust of McIntyre Power before each shift or risk being fired. The product was discontinued after studies found that it had no health benefit.
A 2020 study from the Occupational Cancer Research Centre revealed a link between McIntyre Powder and Parkinson's disease, which the WSIB used to develop internal guidance documents for responding to insurance claims.
That still left people subject to delayed rulings and denied claims, Martell said, whereas the disease is now deemed a 'Schedule 3' occupational disease, making the process much quicker.
"When you have something that's automatically listed as a presumed occupational illness, right on their schedules, you're good to go," Martell said.
GUARANTEED COMPENSATION FOR MINERS
In a release, McNaughton addressed the challenges miners and their families have faced in obtaining compensation for the impacts of the aluminum dust.
He said people deserve to be taken care of when someone falls ill on the job.
"(This) will guarantee compensation for workers who have suffered unfairly as a result of exposure to McIntyre Powder," McNaughton said.
"Our government will continue to make investments to help identify and recognize occupational illnesses and support those who have been injured by exposure on the job.”
While an important step, Martell said some may still struggle to obtain benefits. Proof of employment at a time and place where the powder was used -- as well as documentation of a Parkinson's disease diagnosis -- are required to obtain benefits. Given the wide time period of exposure, many impacted miners have since died and their documents could be difficult to obtain.
MUCH MORE WORK AHEAD
Martell said she is working with dozens of mining families to help them get the benefits they deserve, saying at least $5 million have been paid out to people she's worked with—and likely more who have been inspired to seek compensation on their own.
But this latest development is one checkmark off of her master list, Martell said.
There are other illnesses either confirmed to be linked to McIntyre Powder or needing investigation that she would like action on. There are also other workplace diseases related to mine work that need recognition, she said.
Martell's end goal is to see all workers in the province that have been struggling to access compensation for occupational illnesses receive the benefits they deserve.
She will continue to help the miners that have reached out to her.
'IT DOES NOT REPLACE MY HUSBAND'
Diane Joly is one of the people Martell informed about the McIntyre Powder situation. Her husband Normand died in 2017 from Parkinson's, after being exposed to the powder while working in Timmins mines.
Joly recounted stories he told her of breathing in the dust, coughing up black mucus and skin turning black from the powder being blown into his change room.
After he developed Parkinson's, Joly said a seminar Martell held in Timmins helped them realize that it was likely caused by the powder and that they should seek compensation.
She applied to the WSIB and her claim was approved after Normand's death.
Joly said it was heartbreaking to lose the hard-working man she loved so dearly, but that at least the survivor's benefits kept her from having to sell her house.
"It made me sad to think that my husband had to go through Parkinson's and so sick and see him go through so much, in order (for me) to receive this pension," Joly said.
"It does not replace my husband but it does help."
Joly said she's glad that others affected will be able to get their benefits more easily.
NO ONE'S EVER SAID 'SORRY' TO THEM
For Martell, she thinks anyone exposed to that powder should be compensated, even if they didn't develop an illness, due to the risk they unknowingly endured for protection that did not exist.
She feels surviving miners and the families of those who died all deserve an apology from the province since it had OK'd the research into the powder and its use in Ontario.
"The department of health was involved, the workers compensation board was involved, in those original experiments that happened to Timmins miners ... no one's ever said sorry to them," Martell said.
But for now, she said this victory is a start. She hopes her father would be proud.
Hobbs was the type of person who would do hard work so others don't have to—and Martell wants to honour that by helping workers.
"We didn't have that help and it's a good legacy for dad, a fitting legacy."
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