MAC: Mines and Communities

Silicosis - the world's most destructive mining disease?

Published by MAC on 2016-05-23
Source: Indian Express, Daily Express (Timmins)

The massive human misery caused by silicosis to workers in South African gold mines looks like  finally being addressed.(See: South Africa mines face silicosis law suit).

But, arguably, the response to this decades-long health crisis has come far too late for many families, and remains woefully inadequate.

The same can certainly be said for other countries where silicosis impacts on many labourers and their families in other extractive sectors, notably in Asia. (See: Dusts of death: Asia).

For some years, India's "construction" sector has been held responsible for appalling conditions in which which millions of poor, Dalit ["lower caste"] and Adivasi [indigenous] workers have been exposed to various forms of silica. (See: Indian Human Rights Commission raps denial of silicosis deaths)

Last week, the Indian Supreme Court (SC) ordered the head of the country's Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to explain in person what steps he'd taken to prevent deaths from silicosis in Gujarat - where the victims are mostly tribal people.

He didn't even turn up in court.

The SC also directed the goverment of Gujarat to pay over £70,000 to 238 families of those who died from the disease while toiling in some of the state's quartz and stone crushing plants (see first article below).

And British company Vedanta Resources has still not addressed accusations - made some seven years back - that it is liable for similar deaths at its lead and zinc mines in the same state. (See: India: British company denies silicosis deaths)

It's not only workers in the Global South who've succumbed to silicosis.

Hundreds of  gold and uranium miners in north America and elsewhere have also died, or are dying, from inhalation of aluminium dust which they were ordered to take, supposedly to safeguard against silicotic lung disease (sic!):

"From 1943 to approximately 1979, gold and uranium mines across Canada, the United States, the Belgian Congo, Western Australia and Mexico adopted the use of this powder" (see third article below).

Supreme Court asks Gujarat to pay Rs 7 crore, pulls up chief of pollution board

Supreme court directed the Gujarat government to release more than Rs 7 crore as compensation to the families of 238 workers who died due to silicosis after working in Godhra’s quartz and stone crushing industries.

by Utkarsh Anand

The Indian Express

17 May 2016

New Delhi - In February, Supreme court asked the CPCB to apprise it of steps taken to prevent the disease and to provide workers a dignified and safe working environment.In a rare order, the Supreme Court has issued a bailable warrant against the chief of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) after he did not show up to explain steps taken for preventing death of workers due to silicosis, a lung disease caused by inhalation of dust containing silica.

The top court has also directed the Gujarat government to release more than Rs 7 crore as compensation to the families of 238 workers who died due to silicosis after working in Godhra’s quartz and stone crushing industries.

Issuing the order last week, a bench of Justices Kurian Joseph and Rohinton F Nariman expressed concern over the negligent attitude of the CPCB in addressing the issue of this occupational health hazard although hundreds of people, mostly tribals from Madhya Pradesh, have died due to silicosis while working in Gujarat.

In February, the court asked the CPCB to apprise it of steps taken to prevent the disease and to provide workers a dignified and safe working environment. It had also sought CPCB’s response to a detailed report filed in the court on causes of the disease and the safeguards. Since no response was put forth by the CPCB, the bench asked its chairman to appear before the court.

“Despite service of notice on the Chairman of the CPCB, there is neither any personal appearance nor any appearance through the counsel requesting exemption from personal appearance. In that view of the matter, issue bailable warrant for securing the presence of the Chairman of the Board on the next date of hearing,” the bench ordered while fixing June 30 as the next date.

On according monetary relief to the families of the workers who died, the bench underlined that there had been directives by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in 2010 but the Gujarat government was still to comply.

Noting that the Gujarat government had not challenged the NHRC’s directive, the apex court ordered the state to disburse Rs 1 lakh each to next of kin of 238 workers who died due to the disease, and deposit another Rs 2 lakh each in bank accounts to enable the families earn interest on it.

“In the interest of the kith and kin of people who died on account of the disease and particularly in the interest of the orphan children, the state of Gujarat should forthwith comply with the direction of the NHRC,” the bench said, adding district collectors of Jhabua and Alirajpur districts of Madhya Pradesh, from where these workers had travelled to Gujarat to work, will distribute the money.

It clarified that the Gujarat government’s contention regarding liability of the employee state insurance corporation (ESIC) to pay shall be adjudicated later.

The chief secretary of Madhya Pradesh government has also been directed to file an affidavit detailing steps taken by them for rehabilitation of 304 people who have been identified as affected by silicosis.

For the silicosis widows of India, the struggle continues

by Dan Moshenberg

17 May 2016

On May 4, India’s Supreme Court directed the Gujarat government to compensate the families of 238 workers who died of silicosis while working in unregulated quartz crushing factories. Within the month Gujarat is supposed to pay each family 300,000 rupees, or around $4,500. The Court also directed the Madhya Pradesh government to take care of an additional 304 workers currently suffering from silicosis. As in South Africa, the story of industrial silicosis is a widows’ tale, from horrible start through brutal inner chapters to whatever the end will be.

According to a 1999 Indian Council of Medical Research report, in India about 3 million are at risk of silica exposure. Since that report, the numbers of workers in the various fields – mining and quarries, manufacture of non-metallic products, manufacture of basic metals and alloys, and construction – has only increased, and since that time pretty much nothing has improved in the conditions of labor, and so one assumes that the 3 million mark has been exceeded by quite a bit.

Across Madhya Pradesh, this “occupational trend” has produced an archipelago of widow villages, and that’s the point. The villages are not new and are not unknown. Women’s organizations have long lobbied for compensation. For ten years, the National Human Rights Commission has documented and organized to improve the situation of the workers and their families. At every step of the way, the Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh governments have refused any sort of assistance.

It’s a common enough story. Small hold farmers from tribal communities were forced off their lands by market forces, weather, and the poverty of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, which, in Madhya Pradesh, guarantees stay-at-home-and-die. And so populations of mostly male workers went off to work in the factories of Gujarat. When they returned home, usually earlier than expected, they were frail, coughing, bleeding versions of the men who had left. And women were left to tend to the dying, the dead, and the debts. Then the women started going to Gujarat to work crushing stones.

Madhavi comes from a village in Madhya Pradesh. She joined four family members who went to work in Gujarat. Six months later, sick, they all returned home. To pay for medical treatment, they sold off their livestock and mortgaged their land. Then Madhavi’s mother, two brothers and sister-in-law died of silicosis. Now, sick with silicosis, Madhavi cares for her father and struggles with debt: “With my brothers gone, I am not sure when I‘ll be able to pay off all the loans. I have received no support from the government. My father does not receive any pension. It is very difficult to get by as I am always tired and run out of breath while working.”

Meanwhile, across Rajasthan, mineworkers’ widows tell the same story of death, debt, and desperation. Prembai explains, “[My husband] could not work for the last six years of his life, so I would work to keep things going. Women earn just Rs100 a day in the mines, while men are paid about Rs250.” The bodies and debts pile up; the State looks away. In Rajasthan as elsewhere, entire villages are called “the land of widows”.

The story of silicosis in India is the same as that in South Africa. For those who work the mines and factories, there is no dignity in labor. For the widows, there is no dignity in death. The bodies come home, the debts and demands mount, the extraction continues.

150 miners' names added to McIntyre powder registry

By Ron Grech

The Daily Press (Timmins)

13 May 2016

TIMMINS - Janice Martell walked into the room where volunteers had gathered in preparation for a two-day miner’s health clinic starting the next day in Timmins.

It was a gratifying and emotional moment for her.

There were 50 volunteers from different health organizations and local unions.

“It just hit me we’re not alone anymore,” said Martell.

It was a far cry from the way she felt just a few years ago when she reluctantly withdrew her father’s application for Workman’s Compensation on a claim he was suffering neurological effects from repeated exposure to McIntyre Powder aluminum dust while working as a uranium miner Elliot Lake.

“I withdrew my dad’s claim because I realized there was no way to win,” Martell recalled. “When you’re an individual person and you apply for WSIB (Workplace Safety & Insurance Board benefits), you feel so isolated.

“I didn’t know where to turn at that point. What do you do? I don’t know scientists and medical people who can look into this. I didn’t know how to reach them, I didn’t know how to engage them. So I started my project. And this team of so-wonderful dedicated people — the Steelworkers (union) hosted it, they organized it. OHCOW (Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers) is handling all of the health information.”

Over the course of two days — Wednesday and Thursday — at the Ramada Inn, a steady flow of retired miners or family members of now-deceased workers attended the clinic, sharing their history about their exposure to McIntyre Powder and the residual effects.

Most of the people who attended were from the Timmins area, however, some travelled a vast distance including a retired miner now living in Saskatchewan, and another family that flew in from Newfoundland. There were also several who came up from southern Ontario.

Many of them reported having respiratory problems or neurological disorders including various forms of dementia.

“The word I would use to describe when people came in and when I saw them coming out was ‘transformative,’” she said. “The look on their faces — it was just incredible. People felt they had been heard.”

Martell’s own father is in the latter stages of Parkinson’s disease and struggling with his health.

McIntyre Powder aluminium dust was developed at the old McIntyre Mine. It was finely ground aluminium which miners were required to inhale under the belief it would protect them from silicotic lung disease.

From 1943 to approximately 1979, gold and uranium mines across Canada, the United States, the Belgian Congo, Western Australia and Mexico adopted the use of this powder.

The practise ended after an increasing number of research papers suggested a link to neurotoxicity affecting the human nervous system.

Martell’s inability to get compensation for her father prompted her to start up the McIntyre Powder Project, which is a research initiative.

The McIntyre Powder intake clinic held in Timmins this week was the culmination of Martell’s efforts to raise awareness of the issue and build up a registry of miners who had health or medical issues likely linked to their exposure to aluminum dust.

That voluntary registry is now at about 250 names.

Martell’s efforts were appreciated by those who attended the clinic.

“I was pulled in 100 different directions,” she said. “People were just wanting to come up and say thank you for starting something that allowed us to have a voice. It was overwhelming.”

A second intake clinics will be held in Sudbury at the United Steelworkers Hall on Oct. 3 and 4.

Anyone wanting more information, can contact Martell at 1-800-461-7120, or email her at jmartell[at]


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