New study shows link between Parkinson’s disease, McIntyre Powder exposure
SUDBURY -- New research out of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board has found a link between developing Parkinson's disease and exposure to McIntyre Powder, a type of aluminum dust.
The news was a major victory for Janice Martell, founder of the McIntyre Powder Project, which has been working toward proving the link since founding the project in 2015.
"Finding this out was such a mix of emotions," said Martell, whose father, Jim Hobbs, was a hard-rock miner who died from Parkinson's in 2017.
"I was elated and then horrified when you realize maybe if dad hadn't gone into the mines, he wouldn't have suffered with Parkinson's, he wouldn't have, you know … It was rough that way, and he's not here to tell. And that part's hard."
The WSIB study was conducted by Dr. Paul Demers from the Occupational Cancer Research Centre. It demonstrated a statistically significant increased risk of Parkinson's disease in miners who were exposed to McIntyre Powder when compared to miners with no exposure to the dust.
The study drew from the Mining Master File to use anonymous historical records to determine who was exposed to the dust. Those files were then linked to provincial health records.
"We worked with Dr. Demers at the [Occupational Cancer Research Centre] and put together this study where he was looking at those exact mining master files, putting them together with people's actual health outcomes in an anonymized way to see," said Aaron Lazarus, vice-president of communications for the WSIB.
Martell said the news was a long time coming.
"It's become my life. I've taken away time from family and friends and it's been everything that I've focussed on for at least the last six years."
Lazarus said that the WSIB has a number of claims already related to McIntyre Powder that have either not had a decision made, or were given an interim decision pending the findings of this study.
"We're going to move as quickly as possible to go through those claims," he said. "(Well go thought them) one by one and use this new information and evidence when we make decisions on those claims and get back to those families as quickly as possible with decisions on those claims."
Martell doesn't expect to slow down any time soon. With miners all over the world being exposed, she wants to make sure the findings in this study are widely known.
"This was used in the United States, it was used in dozens and dozens of factories that had silica dust in them so workers there were exposed, western Australia, across Canada in a lot of different workplaces," she said.
However, researchers were unable to find a link between exposure to McIntyre Powder and other neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease. Martell said more research on other potential effects needs to be done.
"This study looked at neurological disorders only," she said. "I've got guys on my registry with high rates of respiratory conditions -- cancers, cardiovascular, some auto-immune things, sarcoidosis and things like that -- and this same study needs to happen in the same way to link the data to see if there's higher rates of miners and in McIntyre miners."
While Martell is disheartened she can't share the news with her father, she's proud his legacy will live on.
"Dad, he would always lend a hand," she said. "If somebody needed a shed built or doing anything like that, he'd go lend a hand.
"And now in his death, because he was brave enough to tell his story and let me do this project in his name, he's going to be helping lots of families."
Anyone who may have been exposed to McIntyre Powder, or knows of someone who was, is encouraged to contact the WSIB in order to see if a claim should be filed.
A previous version of this story had a direct quote referencing the Ontario Cancer Research Centre. The quote was referring to the Occupational Cancer Research Centre.