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25,000 miners told to use harmful McIntyre Powder fail to get Ontario apology

Friends, family and advocates for the 25,000 miners who were forced to inhale McIntyre Powder walked away from the Legislative Assembly on Thursday without the Ontario apology they were expecting.

Northern miners were required to breathe in the ground aluminum dust, known as McIntyre Powder, before they started their shifts from 1943 until 1979. 

They were told the powder would protect them from harm, but years later, many developed diseases such as Parkinson’s — a brain disorder that tends to worsen over time, affecting the ability to speak and walk.

In 2020, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board of Ontario (WSIB) confirmed miners forced to inhale McIntyre Powder were at a higher risk of developing Parkinson’s.

Janice Martell started the McIntyre Powder Project to prove there was a potential link between inhaling the powder and neurological disease. Her father, Jim Hobbs, inhaled the powder while working as a miner, and died in 2017 of Parkinson’s.

Martell has also lobbied the province for an official apology to the miners who are still alive as well as their families.

On Thursday, she was at the Legislative Assembly, but did not get that apology.

“Quite frankly, you know, it’s been 80 years since the first canister of McIntyre Powder was delivered to the experimental subjects up in Timmins,” Martell said. “I don’t know how much longer we need to wait for an apology.”

Four known canisters of McIntyre Powder were used between 1943 and 1979. The white can is the original canister, labelled as 5 grams. The next two are labelled as 10 grams. (Supplied by Janice Martell)

House leader says more time needed for apology

Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas on Thursday moved a motion for an official provincial apology, but House leader Paul Calandra said the government would need more time to make a proper one.

“An apology of the House is one of the highest things that we can do and one of the most important things that we can do.”

Calandra said he was only made aware of the request for an apology on Wednesday.

“The families do deserve an apology, absolutely,” he said. “But we can’t do it in less than 24 hours.”

But Martell said the government has had plenty of time to prepare an apology. She said she has presented petitions to the Ontario Legislature, and Greater Sudbury area MPs France Gélinas and Jamie West have made statements in the Legislative Assembly going back to February.

“You know, I understand that they want to do it right. I do understand that,” Martell said. “My issue is that these guys are dying.”

It’s just maddening that it didn’t happen today.– Roger Genoe, former mining electrician, on not getting an apology Thursday

Roger Genoe was a mining electrician who worked in Elliot Lake from 1975 to 1979, a period when he inhaled McIntyre Powder.

Genoe was at the Legislative Assembly on Thursday and said lack of an apology was extremely disappointing.

“What happened today, I mean there’s nothing we can do about it,” he said. “But you know what? Let’s put it back in the House and let’s get the proper apology. It’s just maddening that it didn’t happen today.” 

Ontario Labour Minister Monte McNaughton noted the province has invested $1.8 million to support the McIntyre Powder Project.

“We have stepped up to guarantee compensation for workers who have suffered unfairly as a result of exposure to MacIntyre Powder,” he said. “While other governments in the past of all different stripes didn’t recognize it, we did.”

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