25,000 miners ordered to use harmful McIntyre powder get no apology from Ontario

Friends, family and advocates for the 25,000 miners who were forced to sniff McIntyre powder walked out of the Legislative Assembly on Thursday without the apology from Ontario they expected.

Northern miners had to breathe in crushed aluminum dust, known as McIntyre powder, before starting their shifts from 1943 to 1979.

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

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

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

Martell also pressured the province to issue a formal apology to the surviving miners and their families.

Thursday, she was in the Legislative Assembly, but did not get this apology.

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

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

House leader says more time is needed to apologize

Nickel Belt MLA France Gélinas tabled a motion for a formal provincial apology on Thursday, but House Leader Paul Calandra said the government would need more time to make a proper one.

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

Calandra said he was not made aware of the apology request until Wednesday.

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

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

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

It’s just infuriating that it didn’t happen today.— Former mining electrician Roger Genoe on not receiving an apology on Thursday

Roger Genoe was a mining electrician who worked in Elliot Lake from 1975 to 1979, a time when he sniffed McIntyre powder.

Genoe was in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday and said the lack of an apology was hugely disappointing.

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

Ontario Labor Minister Monte McNaughton said the province has invested $1.8 million to support the McIntyre Powder project.

“We have stepped up our efforts to secure compensation for workers who have suffered unfairly from exposure to MacIntyre powder,” he said. “While other governments in the past of all stripes have not recognized this, we have.”