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Protecting workers in the mining industry

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Vern Ramsay, mantle cell lymphoma survivor, Sudbury
Victoria Arrandale, occupational health researcher, Toronto
A Society-funded study is working to better understand levels of exposure to carcinogens in the Ontario mining industry.
Identifying and understanding exposures to carcinogens will help make mining workplaces safer.
For the first 20 years of Vern Ramsay’s career in Sudbury’s mining industry, he worked with welders in the plate shop, making steel plates for mining chutes and piping, where he was exposed to potentially hazardous welding fumes. “Plating was a dirty job and we washed our hands in used oil from transformers to clean up,” says Vern, now 74.
Vern then taught occupational health and safety to his fellow workers and retired at 57, after 37 years in the mining industry. Eight years later, he was diagnosed with advanced mantle cell lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that develops in the lymph nodes. While undergoing treatment, he visited an occupational health clinic for Ontario workers. “I knew there were long-term cancer risks at work and saw a number of my former partners in the plate shop get cancer,” he says. The clinic doctors thought his cancer was work-related. “What really takes away the enjoyment of my pension is to be hit with an occupational disease,” says Vern, now in remission. “Even though I was successfully treated, every day I open my eyes and I wonder, am I okay?”
With Canadian Cancer Society funding, Dr Victoria Arrandale, a senior research associate at the Society-funded Occupational Cancer Research Centre (OCRC), is developing a new mining exposure database, using historical data from Ontario. This tool will help researchers to better understand and identify exposures to carcinogens such as radon, nickel and chromium that put mining workers at risk of developing cancer. “Current and former workers could then use this information to communicate with their doctors and decide about monitoring to detect cancer early,” says Dr Arrandale.
Dr Arrandale and other OCRC researchers will also use this information to design and evaluate strategies to reduce cancer-causing exposures and prevent future work-related cancers. “Research provides the evidence on which decisions can be made about hazardous exposures and what exposure levels should be reduced. Without evidence, policymakers don’t have the information they need to make decisions that will lead to safer, healthier workplaces,” she says.  
Vern believes research can give mining industry workers today better protection against cancer. “Research could really help to ensure that people work in a healthy environment. It would mean people could retire and not find out years later that they’re sick because of the work they did in the past,” he says.

Read more about workplace exposures by clicking here.



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