An Ontario health agency says it's found a "concerning" rate of ALS in miners exposed to an aluminum dust once thought to protect their lungs, The Fifth Estate has learned.
There is no proven scientific or medical link between neurological disorders and McIntyre Powder, but mounting anecdotal evidence has motivated some scientists and doctors to take another look.
"There is good reason to investigate the hypothesis that this type of exposure can cause a range of neurological disorders," said Dave Wilkin of Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW), a publicly funded organization that deals with workplace and work-related health issues.
Two years ago, Wilkin and his team at OHCOW teamed up with Janice Martell, whose father was exposed to McIntyre Powder while working in nickel and uranium mines in northern Ontario between 1959 and 1990 and was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2001.
They host intake clinics for miners from across the country who inhaled the powder on the job. They map and study detailed health histories of the miners, collate the data and examine their findings.
From The Fifth Estate's 'Powder Keg' episode in 1979: Before shifts, change rooms in mines were filled with McIntyre Powder, which workers were encouraged to breathe in as deeply as possible. (CBC)
They say they've found a "concerning" number of former miners exposed to McIntyre Powder who now have ALS — seven cases of ALS in a group of just over 300 miners.
"This number jumps out at you," Wilkin said. "This might be telling us something. This is a very rare and a very serious condition."
Amytrophic Lateral Sclerosis or Lou Gehrig's disease is rare in the general population — occurring at a rate of two cases per 100,000 people. The degenerative disease causes paralysis and eventually death as the brain gradually loses its ability to communicate with the body's muscles.
McIntyre Powder, developed at McIntyre Mine near Timmins, Ont., is a finely ground aluminum dust that company officials said would protect miners' lungs if inhaled at the start of every shift.
McIntyre Powder was thought to prevent silicosis in miners and was to be inhaled before shifts. (CBC)
Many miners were forced to use it as a condition of employment between the years of 1943 and 1979 in mines around the world.
The product had only been tested on a small number of rabbits and guinea pigs before it was put on the market and provided to tens of thousands of miners.
In March, Martell and Wilkin presented their findings to an audience in Vancouver featuring some of the top international scientists who study aluminum. Martell's appeal struck a chord, and scientists at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., will soon start further study on the miners she's identified over the past two years.
McIntyre Powder Project
It was only after Martell's father, Jim, was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease that she learned about McIntyre Powder and started wondering if there could be a link.
When she filed a claim with Ontario's Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) for her father five years ago, the answer was unequivocal: No established link exists.
That's when Martell went to work, scouring government archives for anything she could learn about the powder and reaching out to miners of her father's generation, asking if they'd been exposed and whether they were sick.
Janice Martell, founder of the McIntyre Powder Project, is pushing for scientific study of a possible link between the powder and neurological disorders. (CBC)
"I was blown away," Martell told The Fifth Estate in 2016. "Silicosis is a disease of the lung produced by inhaling dust. So they're going to ... fight it by inhaling another kind of dust. I can't imagine grinding up a piece of tinfoil and inhaling that and then thinking that would be good for you."
Martell has spent the past two years attempting to find help for these miners through her McIntyre Powder Project, and trying to prove the anecdotal evidence she's found has a basis in science — that the McIntyre Powder did, indeed, cause disease, and that miners who were exposed should therefore be compensated.
When The Fifth Estate spoke to Martell last winter, she had a list of 135 people who claim they've suffered long-term neurological health problems and were given McIntyre Powder.
Martell has been encouraging former miners who may have been exposed to McIntyre Powder to attend information clinics. (Facebook/McIntyre Powder Project)
Today, Martell's list has 363 names.
She continues to search for more miners like her father. She hosts clinics across northern Ontario and has heard from miners from as far away as B.C. and the Maritimes.
Latest USA News
- Province speeds up nominee program
- Horrific details emerge in tiny toddler's murder case
- We know you're bluffing, Gary... and that's too bad
- Septuagenarian running to hall of fame honour
- Trudeau: 'trusted' U.S. administration said Assad responsible for gas attack
- Police chief not sure what's behind rise in 911 calls, violent crimes
- RCMP confirm East Selkirk triple shooting a double murder-suicide
- Kinew determined to shake his past, NDP's in bid for leadership
- Health reform hitting hard
- Major surgery for city hospitals
- Canadian labour leader Bob White dead, instrumental in creating CAW
- Trudeau sends letter apologizing for responding in French to English questions
- Trouba gets pair for his Malkin-like head hit
- Loblaw resets passwords for all PC Plus accounts following security breach
- For some festival attendees, the rain on the plains is hardly a pain
- Court hearing on city's growth fees rescheduled
- Tensions emerge in Manitoba border town as more migrants seek refuge
- Manitoba on fire at 5-0
- Conservative group cancels speech by Yiannopoulos
- Plane carrying 5 people hits Australian shopping mall
- Mayor Bowman drafts request for public inquiry into police headquarters project
- Bell acquisition of MTS all clear to go ahead March 17
- Brandon officers face driving charges after IIU review
- Food for thought: dirty, potentially dangerous spots closed, fined
- WestJet pilot orders pizza for rerouted Air Canada passengers in Fredericton
- We meat again
- A silent late-night ride on a bus to madness
- Canada Goose files for public offering on Toronto and New York exchanges
- Stuart McLean, host of CBC Radio's 'Vinyl Cafe,' has died
- Murder suspect in bus driver's death has long criminal record
- Former Blue Bombers executive is Siloam Mission's new quarterback
- Child-safety cases top priority: chief justice
- Bowman speaks out on 'reprehensible' anti-Semitic threat
- Barren beauty
- Brother and sister both snag junior curling championship victories
- Nurse shortage forcing WRHA to close QuickCare clinic
- Crown doubles price of Medical Arts Building
- Overhaul of road repair contracting process hits speed bump
- 5 dead, 8 wounded in airport shooting; US veteran arrested
- Can you hear him now? Pallister uses phone in Costa Rica; email for emergencies only