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Ontario workers exposed to Agent Orange

ONTARIO (Canadian OH&S News)


ONTARIO (Canadian OH&S News)

Ontario workers might have been exposed to Agent Orange, a recent report from an independent fact-finding panel has revealed.

On June 13, the provincial government released their report into the use of 2,4,5-T herbicide, or Agent Orange. The chemical was used in the forestry, transportation and agriculture industries in the province from the 1950s to the 1970s.

Among the potential health effects are Hodgkin’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, prostate cancer, and respiratory cancers, to name a few.

Dr. Leonard Ritter, a toxicologist at the University of Guelph who led the study, said that because records were not kept as diligently today as they were in the past, the results cannot determine exactly how many workers were exposed and at what levels.

“People didn’t measure exposures 50 years ago,” Ritter said, adding that those who applied the chemical, for instance using a backpack sprayer, would likely face a higher risk.

“Typically what we found is that the people who had significant exposure — the exposures that may have exceeded what we consider to be a safe threshold — were the ones who mixed, loaded, and applied the chemical,” Ritter explained. “And the reason why they probably came out on the high side of exposure is because they did this repeatedly for many days, many weeks a year throughout the season, and they did it often for many years.”

Jessica Spindler, press secretary for the Minister of Natural Resources said that the dangers are not as prevalent today.

“Over the last few decades there has been continuous improvement in the area of herbicide and pesticide use, including stricter regulation and approvals, better technology for applying them, and rigorous precautions taken when using them,” she said in an email. Spindler added that the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) is assessing the report.

In 2011, the ministry set up a phone line dedicated to workers who thought they might have been exposed to 2,4,5-T, and to date have received 833 calls.

“The WSIB is reviewing the report as part of its work to adjudicate claims from workers who believe that their medical conditions were caused by workplace exposure to herbicides and has struck a team to assess claims related to past exposure of 2,4,5-T,” Spindler said. “We cannot determine exactly how many people may have been exposed as a result of its historical use, but Dr. Ritter has indicated the number of workers whose exposure surpassed safe thresholds is likely relatively small.”

In 2009, Ontario banned the use of cosmetic pesticides, which prohibits the use and sale of about 250 pesticide products to reduce unnecessary risks. Workers are now looking to compensation, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) said.

“Many retired OPSEU members (and some who are still working) have contacted OPSEU to ask for advice. Many have also provided their names and some exposure information and/or filed claims with the WSIB.”

Ritter added that other jurisdictions should follow in Ontario’s footsteps.

“This stuff was used all over the country, Ontario is not the only place, it was used all over the world. And if I was a lead politician in any jurisdiction almost anywhere on earth, not just in Canada, I would kind of be taking note and thinking, do we have an obligation to ask the same question regard to our province?”

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