Search is on to find miners with Parkinson's disease who were exposed to McIntyre Powder
Search is on to find miners with Parkinson's disease who were exposed to McIntyre Powder
Leanard and Jeannine Vincent were married in 1944 when Leanard was working at the Dome Mine in Timmins.
Leanard, who breathed in McIntyre Powder before every shift at the mine, now has Parkinson's disease. The finely ground aluminum dust was in use between 1943 and 1979 in Ontario and was supposed to provide protection from respiratory disease.
But a link has since been established between inhaling the powder and Parkinson's disease.
“They had to do this every day before going to work underground -- you had to do this," said Jeannine.
“When he’d come back home, it smelled. Like, he had it all on his clothes … So this is where the aluminum dust powder came. So he’d come home and even the lunch pails and all that smelled awful. He was there for many years with this breathing of the powder.”
The Vincents now receive help from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), which has recognized the link with Parkinson's only since 2020.
Janice Martell, founder of the McIntyre Powder Project, said there are at least 284 workers exposed to the powder who later developed Parkinson's.
“That’s from the Occupational Cancer Research Centre Study and that study was only linking health care records in Ontario miners from 1992 on,” Martell said
“So it only captured about half the workers who were exposed to McIntyre Powder in Ontario and this was used across the country.”
Martell launched the McIntyre Powder Project in 2015. Since then, she lost her dad to the disease. Today she is working to help other families.
“I wanted to know, did breathing in aluminum – finely, finely ground aluminum -- was that responsible for his Parkinson’s? And we have that answer now,” she said.
“Three years after his death, it was acknowledged, and you get a WSIB letter that says, hey you’re now eligible for health care benefits, when those health care benefits could have kept him at home. That was really hard to take.”
As of Dec. 31, 2021, Martell said 49 related claims have been made to WSIB, seven of which were denied, two are still pending and 40 have been accepted. There are more people out there who are eligible for help, she added.
“Last month a woman contacted me (who) saw a news clip about McIntyre Powder," Martel said.
"She looked it up on the WSIB website, she contacted them at their 1-800 number and was told by the person that she spoke to that he’d never heard of McIntyre Powder and didn’t know what she was talking about.”
Families have waited too long
With April being Parkinson’s Awareness Month, United Steelworkers Canada is launching a cross-Canada campaign to reach families of miners who developed Parkinson’s due to McIntyre Powder. Spouses are also eligible for compensation.
Myles Sullivan, United Steelworkers District 6 director, said 43 years is too long to wait for compensation.
“There was a longstanding injustice there that tens of thousands of miners were exposed to this as a precondition to their employment,” said Sullivan.
“There’ll be a fast track process now for them to qualify for WSIB. So now that we’ve accomplished this first step, it’s our job to go out, track them down, find them, spread the word and let them know that this is there for them and their surviving spouses."
Compensation varies case to case, depending on individual circumstances.
“If the Parkinson’s happened prior to 1990 then there’s different rules that apply,” said Martell.
“The worker themselves can get a pension. If it’s after 1990 (that) they were diagnosed, they get what’s called a non-economic loss benefit. So they get an assessment of how impaired they are and they get a lump sum.”
For the Vincents, the help has made a big difference in their lives.
“They even provided him with a recliner chair and same with this table, for him to be able to move it around and get his things like his coffee, whatever,” said Jeannine.
“Also they provided him with a hospital bed because he was at that stage now because he’s on a feeding tube because of his Parkinson’s.”
Although it is a huge victory, Sullivan said it is long overdue.
“We’re happy that it’s in place (but) why did it take so long?” he said.
Martell said people don’t have to go through the process alone. She is available to help anyone who needs it whether it be general information or filling out the proper forms for WSIB. She can be reached at 1-800-461-7120.
“There’s no reason for the workers to go through stuff like that,” said Jeannine.
“Hopefully none of this is going to happen, none of these things are going to happen again.”
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