Unwanted effects

Paul Herridge
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Industry Health concerns extend beyond shipyard workers, council told

A community group exploring the effects of exposure to toxins and chemicals on employees at the Marystown shipyard believes workers aren't the only ones who should be concerned.

Bernadine Bennett, a co-chairwoman of the Marystown Shipyard Families Alliance and other members of the group, addressed the matter during last week's regular town council meeting.

The Marystown Shipyard Families Alliance believes exposure to toxins and chemicals extends beyond just those who have worked at the facility. Photo by Paul Herridge/The Southern Gazette

A community group exploring the effects of exposure to toxins and chemicals on employees at the Marystown shipyard believes workers aren't the only ones who should be concerned.

Bernadine Bennett, a co-chairwoman of the Marystown Shipyard Families Alliance and other members of the group, addressed the matter during last week's regular town council meeting.

Bennett indicated the alliance, formed last year in an attempt to find some answers for frustrated shipyard workers and their families, fear those who live near the yard have also been impacted by exposure to various substances through the air and other means.

What's more, she said the group fears the health of current workers and nearby residents may be at risk.

Community issue

Earlier this year, the Marystown Shipyard Families Alliance brought 39 claims for occupational disease before the Workplace Health Safety and Compensation Commission (WHSCC) for review.

Since holding an intake clinic in June, Bennett said, the group is working on at least 50 more cases. She acknowledged new instances are brought to their attention regularly.

With the help of Dr. Noel Kerin, who operates Kerin Occupational Health Consulting in Toronto, Bennnett said the group claims to be able to link the majority of the diseases to toxins at the Marystown shipyard.

The alliance had hoped to work with Canadian Auto Workers (CAW), which represents workers at the facility, but after reaching an agreement on how to proceed in February, things fell through a week later.

Bennett acknowledged the union has a place in the proceedings, and indicated her group hopes some relationship can be forged.

"How the CAW chooses to represent their paid members is completely the decision of the union and its membership," she said.

"When the effects of an industry, such as a shipyard, spills out into the surrounding community and causes death and environmental damage, it is no longer a trade union issue, but a community issue. We are committed to properly identifying these problems and, if possible, rectifying them."

Problems in wider area

Bennett said it became evident the problems weren't isolated to the facility alone shortly after the alliance began delving into the diseases linked to workers.

The group expanded its area of research, initially limited to Queen Street in the community, to include a broader area surrounding the shipyard.

She said few are aware the provincial government, which had owned the facility, hired environmental consulting firm Jacques Whitford to carry out a four-year assessment and cleanup of the shipyard area, as agreed when the province sold the operation to Freide Goldman International in 1998.

Bennett indicated the alliance was granted access to the assessment and was allowed to jot notes when Burin-Placentia West MHA Clyde Jackman brought the document to Marystown.

Bennett said the study revealed a cleanup had been started, but for reasons that were unclear, it was stopped in April 2002 before it was finished

While much of the document's jargon was hard for someone without a scientific background to understand, Bennett said it was obvious the company had "very, very serious" concerns with the shipyard, which was sold to Peter Kiewit and Sons the same year.

Safety zone

The group has also had difficulty finding information on whether a buffer zone - an area where residents would not be permitted to live - was established around the shipyard.

"We're assuming it exists. We don't know what the radius is ... but we think that people in that area are still at risk, have been and are showing the effects of it."

Laura Cheeseman, an area resident, pointed out the topic was of particular interest to her family.

"Our front door is overlooking the shipyard, where all these stacks are coming up, and there's nobody, only us, would have lived there," she said.

"They should have really moved us away because the clanging and the noise and the sandblasting and whatever was there. We lived with it for 40 years. I mean it's unreal. I don't know why we were left there on top of that.

"At the time, nobody suggested anything, nobody said anything so we didn't know any different, I guess."

Alarming

Marystown council agreed to another meeting in a month's time, giving councillors a chance to sift through information provided by the group. Coun. Dave Brenton asked the alliance to come back with a suggestion as to what role the town should play.

"There's several issues here; one of them, of course, is protection of the worker, who is a union member. And now, from your presentation, the Town of Marystown, the town itself, has a big mess down over the hill there - something like Argentia had, and they're all getting assessments and cleanups and millions of dollars," Brenton said.

Bennett suggested for a company such as Jacques Whitford to spend four years studying Marystown was significant, and said the fact the cleanup had been halted alarming.

"The only thing that we can think is they need to be brought back in there and finish what they started,"she said.

She noted the Jacques Whitford report suggested there are unresolved environmental issues with the yard's synchrolift.

"Kiewit is not ultimately responsible for the cleanup, but I don't know. Are they responsible for what happens down there now, in terms of knowing that it is contaminated and continuing to work?"

Coun. Phonse Ward asked if the cleanup was stopped because they weren't finding anything, or because they were unearthing too much.

Bennett explained the shutdown occurred at a hectic time when a lot happened in a short timespan.

She noted the University of Toronto had just completed a study, commissioned by the provincial government, investigating the incidence of cancer in workers at the shipyard. Meanwhile, the facility was sold to Peter Kiewit, and the White Rose project was just coming on stream.

"Realistically, do large companies like Maersk, Shell and Husky, and whoever else was involved in the White Rose project, were they going to be as anxious to come into Marystown when you got families crying occupational disease, death and environmental contamination?" Bennett asked

"Was that the reason it was shutdown? I mean it certainly wasn't because they weren't finding anything down there."

Mayor Sam Synard acknowledged the matter is serious. "It's a community issue. I agree with you," he said.

Organizations: Marystown Shipyard Families Alliance, Workplace Health Safety and Compensation Commission, Canadian Auto Workers Kerin Occupational Health Consulting Peter Kiewit and Sons Marystown council University of Toronto Maersk

Geographic location: Marystown, Toronto, Queen Street White Rose

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