Janice Martell hadn’t even heard of McIntyre Powder until a few years ago. Then someone suggested her father, Jim Hobbs — who had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease after three decades of working in nickel and uranium mines — could be eligible for compensation. She began to research. And what she discovered was a revelation.
Between 1943 and 1979, underground miners working at operations in Canada and around the world were mandated to inhale fine aluminum dust — called McIntyre Powder by the mining executives who established the practice — at the start of every shift, and cough it up before heading home.
Facing high rates of health claims from miners, executives thought the powder would coat the lungs, working as a preventive measure against silicosis, a respiratory disease caused by breathing in fine silica particles.
Early medical research showed a possible link to neurotoxicity, and the practice was abandoned.
Jim Hobbs had been required to inhale the powder while working at the Quirke II uranium mine in Elliot Lake. Martell was incredulous.
“I’m a miner’s daughter and I didn’t know that it happened until four years ago,” she said. “Our dads are stoic; they don’t talk about these things. They go in, they do their job, they come home, they feed their families. That’s what they did.”
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