New research reveals outcomes of historic – yet discredited – dust disease prevention method

Date: Jul 18, 2020

Recent efforts across Australia to prevent silicosis, the deadly condition caused by the inhalation of silica particles, have affected industries such as mining and the cutting of manufactured stone. At this time of rapid legal progress, it's worth noting that the disease was known to be a problem as early as the 1940s. In a tragic turn, efforts to protect miners in decades past appear to have only increased their risk of other diseases.

The failed cure: 1943-1980

Canadian news provider Elliot Lake Today recently reported on the work of Dr. Paul Demers, who launched an investigation into an early effort to fight silicosis. Between 1943 and 1980, mines used a powdered aluminium substance know as McIntyre Powder in an attempt to prevent silicosis in miners. Demers' work shows that the powder did not have the intended effect and actually made the workers more liable to contract Parkinson's disease.

The aluminium powder was used around the world, and was only discontinued in 1980 because it was not found to have any positive effect, not because researchers had detected the negatives. Elliot Lake Today reported that the search for a link between McIntyre Powder and illness was launched by Janice Martell, an advocate for worker health whose father had developed Parkinson's disease following stints in nickel and uranium mines.

Aluminium dust does not fully break down in the body, which is tied to its negative health effects. Mine owners trying to protect their workers ended up giving them another risk factor. Elliot Lake Today noted that in some cases, miners could not even opt out of the showers of the dust, at risk of termination.

Modern dust disease prevention in Australia

As Safe to Work reported in February, new regulations in Queensland and New South Wales are designed to prevent silica dust exposure. These included a hotline for miners who believe they may be at risk of or suffering from a dust disease. The New South Wales government has also imposed a strict silica exposure standard of 0.05 milligrammes per cubic metre. This effort shows how far preventative measures have come since the era of McIntyre Powder: Rather than introducing a new and potentially risky element to the workplace, mines must simply reduce the amount of silica dust entering employees' lungs. Hopefully the measures will save lives in the years ahead.

If you or a loved one is suffering from a respiratory disease that may be tied to exposure to harmful substances, call the compensation experts at Gerard Malouf & Partners at 1800 004 878 or send an email to inquire about a free appointment.

Call us now on 1800 004 878 to book a free appointment with one of my compensation experts, or email your enquiry.