MAC: Mines and Communities

Canada: Powder in mines linked to disease

Published by MAC on 2016-02-21
Source: Sudbury Star

Powder in mines linked to disease

By Carol Mulligan

Sudbury Star

15 February 2016

Intake clinics to be held in Timmins in May could produce data showing a link between a deadly powder used in mines for more than 35 years and the incidence of neurological disease in miners.

United Steelworkers Local 6500 is working with Janice Martell of Elliot Lake on what she calls the McIntyre Powder Project, a campaign she began in 2014. Martell is convinced her father, Jim Hobbs of Massey, contracted Parkinson's disease from the aluminum dust he breathed while working in Elliot Lake's uranium mines.

Canisters of aluminum dust, produced by McIntyre Mine in Timmins, were sold to mining companies and used to fog dries or change rooms for miners as well as some areas underground.

It was thought coating the lungs with aluminum would prevent workers from contracting silicosis from breathing in silica dust, often a byproduct of mining.

JP Mrochek, a compensation officer for USW Local 6500, says the May 11 and 12 intake clinics at the Ramada Inn may help solve the mystery of whether McIntyre Powder is linked with neurological diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and ALS.

The clinics may provide answers "to something that's been a black eye, I think, in the mining community in Northern Ontario," said Mrochek. "If it does show elevations, well now this is tools and scientific literature that can support people like Janice Martell and initiate claims for her father."

Hobbs applied to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board for compensation for the disease he and his daughter believe was caused by his occupation. The claim was denied because there is a lack of scientific evidence to associate exposure to aluminum dust with Parkinson's.

Martell has a gut feeling the two are related, said Mrochek, and the Material Safety Data Sheet for aluminum dust does say it is associated with the onset of Alzheimer's disease. The data sheets contain information on the potential hazards of the use of chemicals and how to handle them safely.

The general consensus, said Mrochek, is that aluminum dust can cause neurological damage or illnesses. Martell has started a voluntary registry, and invites miners to indicate if they were exposed to McIntyre Powder and the diseases they have that are suspected to be a result of its use.

Any studies done on McIntyre Powder show only that it was ineffective, said Mrochek. "We know it did not prevent silicosis." The question left begging is, did the use of aluminum powder "cause more harm than good?"

The intake clinics are being held in Timmons because that is where it is believed the largest number of miners were exposed to the aluminum dust for the longest times.

People who attend will be first asked to register and agree to the release of their medical information. After that information is gathered, it will be itemized and workers will receive a number so they can remain anonymous.

They will move on next to a station where body mapping is done, a tool Mrochek calls powerful. Workers will offer details of any illnesses or ailments they suffer ranging from migraine to prostate disease to neurological illness. Nurses will place dots on the parts of a body outline, and pinpoint locations for disease. Mrochek said he expects to see a good deal of respiratory disease in the body maps.

If a nurse believes the participant needs care, she will refer miners to two physicians who investigate their symptoms.

Body mapping will lead to exposure profits where workers, retirees and even family members share their recollection of exposures.

Representatives from the WSIB have been invited to attend the clinics as well as people from the office of the worker advisor.

The Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers, which are helping organize the intake clinics, will take data from them to develop a hygiene report, looking at exposure and disease types, and seeing if there is an association between them.

When that report is done, the next phase is to attract one or more epidemiologists to look at it and say the link between McIntyre Powder and neurological disease is worth studying.

Numbers collected in the McIntyre Powder Project can be compared with names on the mining master file, a list of mine workers in Ontario, to determine whether the rates of disease are average or greater than average.

Mrochek called the master mining list powerful because many people were backpack miners, moving from uranium mining to gold to other metals, "and this file followed them."

By putting those pieces together, it can be shown if miners exposed to aluminum dust suffer larger incidences of neurological diseases than people who didn't work in mines.

Mrochek said the intake clinics create a bias because "we're just inviting people who were exposed to this."

For more about the McIntyre Powder Project, go to or To contact the project, email minersinfo[at]

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