This article was orginally published in Saturday Night (a Canadian general interest magazine that ceased publication in 2005) in the June, 1976 issue.
“The conditions in Elliot Lake are not the best conditions to work in to survive a normal life span. If anybody does not like to go to the hospital with lung cancer, he should have a very close look at the Elliot Lake situation before he signs on as an employee of either one of the companies. We believe that the companies should not have the right to expose people to conditions that will cause bodily harm. There has to be a clean-up programme before we can definitely advise people to seek employment in Elliot Lake.” (Paul Falkowski, United Steel Workers of America, Environmental Representative – June 1976)
The uranium miners there are dying of cancer at three times the normal rate. But what can a single-industry town do about it? Close down? Or live with death?
His voice broke in mid sentence. His eyes were red-rimmed and he fought back tears.
“I could be healthy, still workin. Now I have dust plus cancer. And the family is all upside down. Dad’s gonna die maybe today, maybe tomorrow, we don’t know.” His voice broke once again. “And that’s the way it looks like. It’s bad. It’s very bad for a family. Family’s more hurt than me. Cryin’, you know. Disaster.”
It was the type of interview that makes a documentary a success. It was also the type of interview that makes a journalist fell parasitic. One is pleased with having captured an extremely moving moment on tape. But one also feels exploitative for having the presumption to ask a dying man to spill his emotions into your microphone.
Here was a forty-four-year-old man who had spent fifteen years digging and blasting a living in the Elliot Lake uranium miners in northern Ontario. The work was back breaking, the kind of work that makes a man tough and hard. Miners a proud of the strong, vigorous image they project. They don’t cry in public. They don’t cry, that is, unless they are overwhelmed by events and their defences have been destroyed.