Marystown lobby group wants shipyard report released

Barb Sweet bsweet@thetelegram.com
Published on February 18, 2012

The Marystown Shipyard Families Alliance is fed up with delays in releasing a report on cancers among shipyard workers.

The report was commissioned in fall 2009 by the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission (WHSCC), said Bernadine Bennett, whose father died from lung cancer she suspects may have been caused by toxic exposure at the shipyard decades ago.

She said the alliance - a lobby group for sick former workers and surviving families - has been told too many times the report is imminent.

"To be told the report is imminent is what we have been told since 2009," Bennett said.

"That's frustrating. We feel for whatever reason, to us this seems like it's a stall tactic. It's delaying recognizing what happened at that yard and recognizing the exposure."

A Service NL spokesman said the report will be out in the next couple of weeks and will be posted online.

Since 2006, the alliance has counted 27 employees who have been diagnosed with or died from cancer, but it suspects there are many more cases, as that number is only based on anecdotal information and the group's watch on obituaries.

Bennett said the latency period for exposure to carcinogens is 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 many years ago.

She said the men who worked at the shipyard decades ago were exposed to multiple chemicals in confined spaces without protective equipment.

The WHSCC's occupational disease advisory panel commissioned a Montreal research institute to examine whether or not there are cancers that occur in shipyard workers around the world at a higher rate than among the general population.

Taking time

Bennett said it's a taxpayer-paid-for document that's overdue.

"It's not rocket science. You don't need two months to figure out how you are going to release a report," she said of the WHSCC.

Bennett said the alliance - which has a medical adviser - has provided plenty of research to back up its claims and wanted to be involved in decision-making. She said the directive given the Montreal firm involves old science.

"We were talking about multi-chemical exposure. If this (Montreal firm) had been given that directive we would have had no problem in waiting to see what the outcome was," Bennett said.

She said the alliance was first told the report would be done within 18 months. That changed to two years, she said. Then it was supposed to be released in December 2011.

"If the compensation board or government thinks delaying anything further is going to change the situation in Marystown, it's not," Bennett said.

"It is what it is and denying the facts does not change the facts. That's just going to get worse ... What is in that report that's taking so long to get it in our hands? And whatever it is, let's just figure it out before the situation in Marystown gets more desperate."

The Brian Tobin administration privatized the shipyard in the late 1990s, but it inked a deal to cover the cost of all environmental issues that existed up to the time of the sale.

In 2002, Peter Kiewit and Sons bought it. As part of that deal, the government agreed to continue covering those environmental liabilities, and lead paint was removed in 2009.

In 2010, the Department of Innovation, Trade and Rural Development said the environmental indemnity agreement (EIA) is limited to "physical assets" at the shipyard.

bsweet@thetelegram.com