OHS Canada Magazine

Ontario miners forced to take McIntyre Powder hoping for apology by Nov. 30


November 9, 2022
By The Canadian Press

Health & Safety mcintyre powder Mining ontario

Photo: ASTA Concept/Adobe Stock

By Mia Jensen, The Sudbury Star

On Nov. 30, it will be 79 years since mine workers across Ontario were first forced to breathe in a harmful aluminum dust that was supposed to keep them safe. In fact, the dust — known as McIntyre Powder — has derailed many lives.

From 1943 to 1979, as many as 25,000 workers were exposed to McIntyre Powder, a tar black dust that was touted by the Ontario government as an effective preventative measure against the development of silicosis. Every day, workers were herded into sealed change rooms, where the toxic powder would be dispersed in the air.

Decades later, McIntyre Powder has been linked to neurological health effects, including a heightened risk of Parkinson’s disease and parkinsonism, according to Occupational Cancer Research Centre and WSIB.

Now, mine workers and their loved ones are calling on the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to formally acknowledge the suffering of those exposed to the powder and issue an official apology.

“This is not a partisan issue,” said Janice Hobbs-Martell, founder of the McIntyre Powder Project.

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Her father, Jim Hobbs, was exposed while working in Elliot Lake’s uranium mines. In 2001, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and lived with the disease until his death in 2017.

‘I want to be there for my family’

The project has been working with Sudbury MPP Jamie West to secure a date for the official apology. Hobbs-Martell said they’ve received support from across the legislature, including from Mines Minister George Pirie, a Timmins MP. While a date has not yet been confirmed, they are aiming for Nov. 30 to recognize the 79th anniversary of the first time workers were exposed to McIntyre Powder.

“I want to be there for my dad,” said Hobbs-Martell. “I want to be there for my mom, I want to be there for my family, and for the mine workers who were exposed; all of my McIntyre Powder Project mine workers and the ones whose names I will never know. I think it’s very important that they hear this while they’re still alive.”

Roger Genoe is one of those exposed mine workers now waiting for an apology.

From 1975 to 1980, Genoe worked in Quirke 2, a uranium mine in Elliot Lake. Genoe was still a teenager when he was first exposed to McIntyre Powder.

“It wasn’t a thing we wanted done to us,” he said. “It was put on us.”

‘A lot of the guys are gone’

Like most workers who were exposed, Genoe had no choice but to enter the change room to be doused in black dust every day. For most, it was a requirement to keep their jobs. Those who refused would not be allowed underground.

“The trouble is, later on in life, things happen,” he said. “A lot of the guys are gone; they’re not around anymore. And their wives and children, in the course of that time, have suffered. They’re long gone and when I go see them now, I’ve got to go see them in the graveyard.”

Genoe said he wants to government to acknowledge the suffering mine workers experienced, and explain why it happened.

“Why were they allowed to do this? Was it the government that said, Ok, go ahead? I don’t know for sure. But the thing is, there’s a lot of people that suffered along the way.”

In January, WSIB added Parkinson’s disease as a new occupation disease to Schedule 3 in its general regulation, due to its link to work-related exposure to McIntyre Powder.

According to Hobbs-Martell, recognition of the harms of exposure has allowed at least 40 former mine workers to successfully claim compensation for the health impacts they experienced.

While an official apology won’t advance ongoing efforts to improve access to compensation, Hobbs-Martell said it would be an important milestone for an often overlooked issue.

“We want these guys to know that their lives are important,” she said. “We want them to know that the sacrifice they made for their families, for the wealth that they built in this province, to make Ontario a powerhouse — we want them to know that they were not forgotten and that what happened to them was wrong.”

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