Fears over past exposure to chemicals at the Marystown shipyard continue to raise concerns for members of the Marystown Shipyard Family Alliance. — Photo by The Southern Gazette
While the province has its fingers crossed that the Marystown Shipyard cleanup is complete, some are still trying to unravel a terrible mess.
The Marystown Shipyard Family Alliance represents people who believe they or their loved ones developed diseases while working at the facility decades ago.
“Our research has shown us that in the last five years, since our committee started look into the incidence of cancer at the Marystown shipyard, that there has been 22 employees that have either been diagnosed or have died from cancer-related disease,” said Bernadine Bennett, alliance co-chairwoman.
The remediation of lead paint at the shipyard was completed at the end of March.
The province covered the cost — as it has previous remedial work — because it’s responsible for environmental issues that existed before the facility was privatized and sold to Friede Goldman Halter in 1997.
Peter Kiewit and Sons bought the shipyard in 2002, and the environmental indemnity agreement with the province stayed in place.
Kiewit made a claim for the lead paint to be remediated in 2009.
“As far as we know, that’s all for now,” said Susan Sullivan, minister of innovation, trade and rural development.
She allowed the province would be on the hook if another problem predating privatization arises.
Members of the family alliance believe the issues they’ve faced date back well before 1997.
Bennett said the latency period for exposure to carcinogens is 25-40 years, and she believes some of the cancers in recent times are the result of exposure to high doses of chemicals at the shipyard years ago.
There have 69 diagnosis of various cancers among Marystown workers.
A number of the cases are before, or have been adjudicated by, the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission,
Bennett said 12 claims have been accepted. Eleven were asbestos-related and one involved PCBs. She noted not all of the cancers were asbestos related.
The alliance would like to see a couple of things happen.
It wants the province to hold a public meeting in Marystown, making an in-depth environmental report public and answering questions on it.
The group also wants workers compensation to give shipyard employees “presumptive status,” a designation given firefighters in some provinces that presumes certain diseases are caused by firefighting.
“Our research has shown us that in the last five years, since our committee started look into the incidence of cancer at the Marystown shipyard, that there has been 22 employees that have either been diagnosed or have died from cancer-related disease." Bernadine Bennett
Right now, it doesn’t look like the alliance will be successful in either quest.
A government-led meeting doesn’t appear to be in the cards.
Sullivan said the province has shared numerous reports with the alliance and the documents are public as far as it’s concerned. She also noted government’s responsibility was the shipyard’s physical assets, and health claims fall under workers compensation.
The lack of a meeting doesn’t sit well Bennett.
“That’s not our responsibility to inform the people of Marystown and the province of what happened in Marystown from a Crown corporation,” she said.
Regarding presumptive status, the CEO of the compensation commission said the current act already presumes certain chemicals and substances can causes diseases.
“And if your work process involved exposure to those, then it would be covered,” Leslie Galway explained, adding those standards have been applied to claims arising from the Marystown shipyard.
That doesn’t jibe with Bennett either.
She said the alliance’s argument for presumptive status looks at multi-substance, not single chemical, exposure.
She added the men who worked at Marystown decades ago were exposed to multiple chemicals in confined spaces without personal protective equipment.
”The presumption is that this multi-chemical effect would show the disease outcome that we have seen,” she said.
Galway noted the commission has co-operated with the people of Marystown and that’s resulted in an initiative undertaken by its occupational disease advisory panel.
It has asked a Montreal research institute to examine whether or not there are cancers that occur in shipyard workers at a higher rate than the general population.
“If that should arise, then we’ve got work to do,” Galway said. “It all depends on what they find.”
She said it’s too early to know what direction workers comp will take once it receives the report. Ultimately, its board will decide what to do with the information.
“It’s looking like the end of the year or something like that,” Galway said when asked about a timeline.