Dryden, Ont. – Gerald Landry always aimed to retire at 65, but at age 51, his body began to be forced to stop working.
Landry pleaded guilty to five weeks he spent working at a pulp and paper mill in Dryden, Ont., which was then owned by Weirhauser, a large American forestry company.
Landry was hired to help build a recovery boiler project, which was supposed to clean the air for the city from all the odor emissions from the mill. Ironically, the same emissions were flying all over his face during work, says Landry.
“I went out one morning and you couldn’t see 15 feet ahead of you. How bad was the smoke on the ground.”
But it was worse the higher you went. Landry is a boilermaker: a trader who cuts, shapes, and welds steel to repair metal products or build structures. He worked at a high level on the boiler recovery project, where he claims he was most exposed. An unexpected southwesterly wind was part of the problem. When it blew towards workers, they said it pushed toxic fumes towards them and made many workers sick.
Landry claims he was forced to work at the plume.
“They actually bullied us into working at the plume,” Landry recalls, speaking of the contractors running the project. “It was terrible that they were pressuring men”.
Several former workers at the Weyerhaeuser construction site told W5 that they were unusually tired and some even passed out during their shifts.
Laundry remembers his last day working there, when he had chest pains. At the hospital, he claims, there were also 58 other workers from the job, who were waiting for oxygen. He resigned shortly after that.
Workers like Larry Tudorachi put it on hold for too long because they were in dire need of work. The 90s were very difficult in the region, with saw mills closing and mines dwindling; The resource sector was in the grip of a slowdown. In 2002 a well-paying job near home was highly coveted.
“I blame myself for being there,” he told W5 through tears in an interview. “I thought, boy, what would a man do for a dollar.”
Tudorachi was hired as a pipe fitter. He recalled that at times he could not see his partner in the smoke right ahead of him while working on a 20-foot pipe.
Tudorachi also started getting sick and writing down his symptoms. Nearly 20 years later, he shreds a piece of paper with his notes, recording his symptoms: a persistent cough, headache, and three lost fillings, he blames on the exposure.
He described being overly distracted and forgetting simple things like numbers. He said that he is still battling it today. Tudorachi had been in and out of paper mills since 1976, but says the Dryden project was different.
When work began, he recalled, there were weekly security meetings. But when so many workers were questioning why they were getting sick, the group meetings were cancelled.
Documents obtained by W5 through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests confirm that weekly security meetings have turned into smaller ‘toolbox’ meetings as a Weirhauser representative says that larger group meetings are “more vulnerable to attack”. became an opportunity” [safety consultants] and others personally.”
Halfway through the project, on June 3, 2003, the workers left the job, finally having their complaints taken care of.
Ontario’s Ministry of Labor and independent security advisers were called in to investigate. However, apart from a few small exceptions, they found, “all readings for carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide were below detectable limits.”
Nevertheless, he ordered nine additional measures to ensure safety at the site, including external hygienists to test air quality, re-training of testers already on the project, and more equipment for air monitoring. Proper half mask respirators were also provided. Still the workers were getting sick.
“We had no idea what was happening to us. We waited for someone to tell us what we sucked at.”
Tudorachi said bosses often refer to plums as “cocktails.”
“We wanted to know what’s in it” [the cocktail], Tudorachi said. “Because we were falling like flies. And no one could tell us why.”
There were several other walk-offs in 2003. Documents obtained, despite FOI requests, show page after page of workers complaining of ill-health and seeking answers from the Ontario government, safety advisors and wearerhousers.
A Labor Ministry representative, Doug Burke, responded in a document: “Not all gases have exposure limits, we are doing our best to ensure that those limits are not exceeded. There are too many unknowns.”
Dr. Noel Kerin tries to explore those unknowns. A medical doctor, Kerin specializes in occupational and environmental medicine, working for the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (or OHCOW), seeing about 400 workers and their symptoms post-project. They found clusters of problems in patients evaluated separately.
OHCOW’s 2008 evaluation of 388 Dryden Mill workers found the following symptoms:
231 have reported fatigue
195 reported memory loss (short-term)
178 reported sleep problems
165 Headaches Reported
155 reported changes in mood (anxiety)
146 reported concentration problems
91 Decreased sex drive
Note: 266 employees were smokers and former smokers
173 reported the new beginning of the SOB on Labor
100 breathing difficulties
“What immediately stood out was the changes in their functioning as people, their memory. They weren’t that sharp,” says Dr. Kerin. He is astonished that it took more than a year for respirators to be installed properly to protect workers; Not all workers, however, wore their half-masked respirators, saying they found it difficult to breathe and communicate.
Dr. Kerin eventually diagnosed 162 workers with chronic toxic encephalopathy (CTE). Known in the football and hockey worlds for head injuries, it can also be a toxic brain injury caused by repeated exposure to chemicals.
“The workers were poisoned by the chemicals. It’s obvious,” Dr. Kerin says. “The science supports that opinion and the symptoms and signs we found and those workers further substantiate it.”
Workplace Safety and Insurance Board of Ontario (WSIB) did not agree. Even though it acknowledged a cohort exposure problem on its website, and compensates more than 200 people for issues such as exposure, respiratory disease, and toxic effects, it ultimately declined the CTE diagnosis.
In a worker’s rejection letter, the WSIB wrote: “There is no evidence of exposure to significant levels of organic solvents to support the diagnosis of CTE.”
Landry was one of the lucky few who received some compensation, but only after a three-year fight for help and a salary back in 2008.
Before that, he lived on his employment insurance until it expired and had to go on welfare.
“We’ve lost our hydropower. I didn’t have any hydro or telephone in the last five-and-a-half months before I was eligible from the WSIB, so it gets you in trouble,” Landry said. “If I have to pay a landlord or mortgage, I might be out on the street, you know, living under a bridge or something.” They say that their marriage broke up under pressure.
W5 requested an interview with Ontario Labor Minister Monte McNaughton to understand why the ministry did not close the site when so many workers were falling ill. His office never responded to that request, but a ministry spokesman sent general guidelines about closing a workplace, including “the toxicity of airborne contaminants is being evaluated, the concentration of these contaminants in the air.” , and the immediate danger involved. activists.”
W5 also reached out to Weyerhaeuers’ corporate headquarters in Seattle, Washington, to ask about construction project details. Weyerhaeuser’s public affairs manager responded in an email: “Unfortunately, I have no knowledge of this project as Weyerhaeuser was sold about 15 years ago. All relevant documents regarding its operation were gone.” [the new owner] With sales.”
But when we followed up to ask about allegations of an unsafe workplace, Voorheuser didn’t return our repeated emails or calls for several weeks.
Ironically, Tudorachi blames himself for continuing to work at a job that was supposed to reduce pollution, but believes it made him sick.
“The whole system is flawed. We were the sacrificial lambs. Go out there and work, but worry about safety later. Just do ‘er.”