For two decades, a workers’ compensation board policy made it impossible for Ontario miners exposed to aluminum dust to make claims for neurological disorders because the science did not support a connection between the two.
Now, documents obtained through a freedom of information request show the board ordered a review of the topic and created a so-called “negative entitlement” policy after an independent workers’ compensation tribunal ruled in favour of an aluminum-exposed electrical worker’s neurotoxic disability claim.
The board’s ensuing protocol, instituted months later in 1997, closed the door on further claims of the same nature even though existing research was in fact inconclusive.
“There was nothing definitive one way or the other. It was kind of left as a big question mark,” said Dr. Abraham Reinhartz of the evidence at the time. Reinhartz is a physician in the department of family and community medicine at Humber River Hospital who also studied aluminum exposure in aircraft manufacturing workers.
“There are many disorders out there that we think are related to occupational exposures but scientific evidence might not be fully there yet, and yet you don’t see the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board establishing automatic policies shutting down workers’ entitlement,” said Janice Martell, who filed the freedom of information request and is the daughter of an Elliot Lake miner who developed Parkinson’s disease.