Mine health, safety icons mourned – Staff (Sudbury Star – May 30, 2017)

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Two men connected to the fight for better health and safety in Ontario’s mines are being remembered today.

France Gélinas, the NDP MPP for Nickel Belt, stood up in the provincial legislature on Monday to pay tribute to Jean Gagnon, who helped hundreds of fellow Sudbury miners and their survivors battle for compensation benefits, while advocating for the health and safety of workers and victims of industrial disease.

Gagnon died May 1 in Sturgeon Falls. He was 90.

“Jean dedicated over 60 years of his life fighting for health and safety and compensation for his fellow sintering plant workers and their families, all victims of an industrial disease that was only recognized because of his persistence and his determination,” Gelinas told the legislature.

“Jean was a health and safety activist way before that position was recognized. Jean had no medical training and even less epidemiological training, but he saw what his co-workers were exposed to and he could recognize the cough that they all had,” Gelinas said.

“The sintering plant (operated by the former Inco in Copper Cliff) had been jam-packed with five machines where there really was only room for three, so there was no way to contain the nickel dust. Workers could not see one another if they were more than 20 feet apart because of the dust. The nickel dust was so toxic that some women who never set foot in the sintering plant also got sick just by washing their husband’s work clothes that were covered in that dust.”

Also know as “the Bulldog”, Gagnon was made a member of the Order of Ontario for his health and safety work. He himself suffered from a number of cancers, all linked to nickel oxide.

Si Guillet, a former staff representative with the United Steelworkers, praised Gagnon in a 2010 interview. “He was able to obtain several millions of dollars for those afflicted or their widows/dependants,” Guillet wrote. “He is truly a working hero and … he is a Sudbury legend.”

Also being remembered is Jim Hobbs, who died May 24 at the Espanola Nursing Home. He was 76.

A retired miner, his deteriorating health triggered a campaign to investigate the residual effects of McIntyre Powder.

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