A tiny tin, a little larger than a D-cell battery, and full of very finely ground aluminium powder was inhaled by miners around the world. It is alleged to have caused neurological conditions and other medical problems.

A tiny tin, a little larger than a D-cell battery, and full of very finely ground aluminium powder which was inhaled by miners around the world. It is alleged to have caused neurological conditions and other medical problems.
Photo Credit: Claude Martel

McIntyre Powder: inhaling aluminium powder to prevent lung disease

It’s an almost unbelievable story, but for decades miners in many countries around the world were told to inhale microscopic particles of aluminium as a preventative against silicosis of the lungs.

Elliot Lake in northern Ontario, is a well-known mining centre, and that’s where Janice Martel’s father worked as a miner, and where for years he was required to inhale “McIntyre Powder”.  He is now afflicted with Parkinson’s disease.  His daughter made the connection between the aluminium powder and miner’s health problems and has started a website to document the conditions.

Janice Martell works with social services in Elliot Lake, Ontario

Listen
Janice Martell in front of the abandoned McIntrye mines headframe ni Schumacher (Timmins) Ontario, where the aluminium dust was developed, manufactured and shipped to mining and other operations around the world
Janice Martel in front of the abandoned McIntyre mines headframe in Schumacher (nearTimmins) Ontario, where the aluminium dust was developed, manufactured and shipped to mining and other operations around the world © supplied

From the mid 1940’s up to the late 1970’s the powder was used in mines and other industries where workers might be exposed to silica dust.  It may seem unbelievable now, but the theory was by inhaling that the powdered metal, ground to a specific micron size, would give a protective coating to the lungs.

In mines and other places across Canada, the US, the Belgian Congo, western Australia, Chile, Mexico and elsewhere, workers in closed rooms would sit breathing in the dust as if was pumped into the room through a presssurized pipe.

Tom Jeffrey was an underground miner for 23 years and was breathing the dust before every shift.

Tom Jeffrey (left), Jim Hobbs (right) .Tom was one of Jim's shift bosses at a Rio Algom mine in Elllot Lake/. Both had to breathe in the aluminium powder supposed to protect them from silicosis. It didn't. Mr Jeffrey has silicosis, while Mr Hobbs has Parkinson's.
Tom Jeffrey (left), Jim Hobbs (right). Tom was one of Jim’s shift bosses at a Rio Algom mine in Elllot Lake. Both had to breathe in the aluminium powder supposed to protect them from silicosis. It didn’t. Mr Jeffrey has silicosis, while Mr Hobbs has Parkinson’s. © supplied

Quoted in a CBC article in April, 2015, he said, “At night time when you go home and after work, and you’re coughing up this black garbage, it makes you wonder, and we questioned it,” he said. “The company kept saying, ‘No, this is a government thing and there’s no harm in it.'”

Martell has started a website to document cases of workers and family around the world who believe they or their loved ones have medical conditions which may be the result of exposure to the metallic dust.

Janice Martell with her father, now suffering from Parkinson's, and her mother Elaine Hobbs. Workman's compensation would help to cope with the affliction but government agencies reject the claim of damage from aluminium.
Janice Martell with her father, now suffering from Parkinson’s, and her mother Elaine Hobbs, who struggles to help her husband with his disease.. Workman’s compensation would help to cope with the affliction but government agencies reject the claim of damage from aluminium. © Radio-Canada/Yvon Thériault

McIntyre Project email = minersinfo@yahoo.ca

Martell has gathered hundreds of pages of documents related to the aluminium powder and is seeking input from miners and families who think they have been affected by it.
Martell has gathered hundreds of pages of documents related to the aluminium powder and is seeking input from miners and families who think they have been affected by it. ©  Radio-Canada/Yvon Thériault

She says her list which now has over 120 names has already revealed an abnormally high incidence of other supposedly rare medical conditions, in addition to neurological conditions.

Janice Martel showing relative size of a McIntyre Powder canister full of microscopic grains of metallic posder. A small item with potentially huge health implications worldwide.
Janice Martel showing relative size of a McIntyre Powder canister full of microscopic grains of metallic posder. A small item with potentially huge health implications worldwide. © supplied

She is hoping that as awareness grows of what is likely an international medical situation, that scientific researchers will study the situation so that clear medical evidence will emerge, so that compensation claims can be granted to help survivors cope with their medical conditions.

Additional info- Ron Grech  Timmins Daily Press

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5 comments on “McIntyre Powder: inhaling aluminium powder to prevent lung disease
  1. Claude Lanthier says:

    It’s been known for years that aluminum is dangerous! It crosses the blood brain barrier, and remains in the brain indefinitely! They removed aluminum from all of our deodorant products! We need to stop cooking in aluminum pots as well! I hope your starting a class action suit against the Government!

  2. Bill simber says:

    I sucked that stuff in for a few months while I worked underground at algom Nordic back in the late 1950s early 1960s don’t know if I have ill effects but I do have trouble with my throat maybe from that but I do not know .But I know I hated the stuff .They said it was good for you .Then I watched the w 5 program and learned what it really was .But even back then they advertised smoking was good for you. Most miners smoked or chewed tobacco along with the dust. The bad air underground.You had to be tough to survive.

  3. Thank you, Claude. This Project is a massive undertaking, and I am so grateful for the mine and mill workers and their survivors who are coming forward to tell their stories and add their voices. Your willingness to stand with us on this helps ease some of the struggle that my dad is going through with his Parkinson’s. Our family no longer feels like my dad is forgotten. We are also very much indebted to the Steelworkers, Occupational Health Clinic for Ontario Workers, Ontario Public Service Employees Union, Mine Mill members, Workers Health and Safety Centre, and other organizations that are supporting this Project in solidarity. Thank you!

  4. Thomas Jeffrey says:

    It is very sad to watch many of my co-workers that I spent 23 years with slowly wasting away with cancer and sillicosis of the lungs and eventually die . i have been to too many funerals and watched families fight the Wsib only to have their claims denied for reasons that did not make sense. It was always my belief that the WSIB was there to help workers in their time of need , not to deny them the help they needed due to injury or in our case a disease of the lungs caused by working in a uranium mine ; the Macintyre Project may hopefully shed some light on the effects of alunminum powder that miners inhaled before going underground at the start of their shift

  5. claude martel says:

    Thank you Janice for doing all that you are doing …..a miner’s angel in disguise. Your dad is very proud of you . Its not easy to deal with WCIB They are there to save money not to give it out.