Pushing for clinic to determine industrial impact on
community - "What we feel we deserve from (WHSCC) would obviously be
compensation for all these families, men and the widows that have been left
For 12 years, Bernadine Bennett was telling her
children that their grandfather died of lung cancer because he smoked.
"I didn't know until one year ago ... and then when I realized, my father
didn't die of smoking, he was murdered - well, he wasn't murdered, but it
definitely wasn't smoking that killed him," she says.
The real culprit
was likely chemicals and asbestos that he worked with on a daily basis for
decades at the Marystown shipyard, she says.
"You don't have to go on a
big hunt to find families ... all you have to do is go to the local mall or
drive down the road and in every house somebody is connected to that
Bennett is the chairwoman of a community group called the
Marystown Shipyard Families Alliance, which represents about 40 Workplace
Health Safety and Compensation Commission (WHSCC) complainants. The alliance
was formed in 2006 when shipyard workers and their families were frustrated by
an "incompetent" study on cancers and their causes in the community.
The study found 88 cases of cancer diagnosed in workers at the yard, which
researchers considered to be a high number.
As well, shipyard workers
were twice as likely to develop cancer as those working in offices, according
to the study.
The provincial committee that completed the study
recommended the town lobby the province for a health clinic to be held in the
According to documents obtained by the alliance through the
Access to Information Act, when the province sold the shipyard to Friede
Goldman in 1998, government accepted legal liability for any contamination of
the site, marine habitat and the town as well as any workers harmed by working
at the yard.
Aside from compensation, the alliance is asking the
province to set up an intake clinic at the yard site.
"What we feel we
deserve from (WHSCC) would obviously be compensation for all these families,
men and the widows that have been left behind," Bennett says.
expect from those clinics is how to get a handle on how these toxins are still
affecting these men."
A decision on an intake clinic is expected from
WHSCC soon, but WHSCC officials couldn't be reached by press time.
A clinic of their own
meantime, the alliance will hold a public meeting and intake clinic of its own
over the weekend in Marystown and invite the public as well as officials with
the Federation of Labour, the union, business and government.
alliance will bring in Dr. Noel Kerin, who runs Kerin Occupational Health
Consulting in Toronto, to conduct the intake clinic.
In a telephone
interview from his Toronto office, Kerin says about 30 per cent of all cancers
are caused by industrial work.
"Trying to prove the science of
exposures causing illnesses including cancer is complex," Kerin says, adding
that industrial disease often goes unreported and that many doctors blame
cigarettes, when industrial disease is a possible cause.
difficult problem in the equation here is the long, long period of time between
exposures and the appearance of the diseases."
There are thousands of
chemicals and chemical combinations that were used in industrial settings that
have since been ascribed to cancer, Kerin says.
Kerin says the province
shouldn't just look at Marystown as a compensation issue, but as an opportunity
to act as an example to other areas affected by outbreaks of industrial
"This is the cost of industry, that was a very dirty,
dangerous industry, and one of several, and it is an issue that has to be dealt
with by the community, by the public, so it's a problem for Newfoundland," he
says. "If we study it and make people aware, then people will ask the question
'What am I being exposed to?'
"That's the message I'd like to take to
Marystown. Not one of woe hand wringing, that's been done, there's been enough
of that sadness."
Bennett urged people to attend the weekend intake
"Anybody who ever passed through the gates of the Marystown
shipyard needs to come into this clinic and this one-day clinic will be a
prototype for a permanent clinic in Marystown for these men," Bennett
"No matter what their job or classification was, they need to
come into this clinic and be documented."