Calls increase for probe into why hospital staff got sick
By Tera Camus / Cape Breton Bureau
New Waterford - The Sierra Club of Canada added its voice Thursday to calls for
a public inquiry into heavy metal contamination of workers at New Waterford
Spokesman Bruno Marcocchio said a provincially hired consultant was illogical
last week when she said that illnesses among 11 medical staffers at the
hospital are a coincidence.
"It defies common sense," Mr. Marcocchio said Thursday. "You have a cluster of
employees, working in the same wing, all with metals in their bodies, and you
have traces of those metals in the waste, you got (hospital officials)
admitting the air handling system is a problem and there was dust during the
renovation and yet she concludes it can't be the (hospital).
"There is no other common denominator."
The sick staff members don't live in the same neighbourhood and don't all smoke
or eat the same kinds of foods, Mr. Marcocchio said.
"This is a coverup and we think we need a public inquiry to get to the bottom of
The Sierra Club and others believe the illnesses were caused by exposure to
renovations at the hospital. A 16-month, $250,000 project began in a poorly
ventilated area in 2001.
Dr. Lesbia Smith of Toronto told reporters last week that her findings followed
her review of test results from air samples and building materials collected
Trace levels of every heavy metal found in sick staff members were present in
the samples taken from the ceiling tiles, air ducts, floor and other areas but
Dr. Smith said the concentrations were too low to cause illness.
No samples were taken during the renovations, when dust was flying. Neither
staff members nor the hospital's occupational health and safety committee
complained about the dust at the time.
"If indeed some people have metal poisoning, the source of exposure is not the
hospital," Dr. Smith said last week, admitting she did not take any tests
herself or speak to any affected staff.
Dr. Duncan MacIntyre, a 39-year-old oral surgeon who has been off sick since
2002 after falling to his knees near where the renovations were taking place,
called for a public inquiry last year after going public with his heavy metal
Several of Dr. MacIntyre's staff members are also off sick.
Dr. Ben Boucher, one of three doctors in the province who treats heavy metal
poisonings, also called for an inquiry last year, but the Cape Breton district
health authority has said it's still conducting tests and it's too early to
consider an inquiry.
Mr. Marcocchio said it's shocking that no patients at the New Waterford hospital
have been tested, considering many live there year-round as chronic-care
One worker had a baby that also tested positive for heavy metals and uranium.
Victor Tomiczek, spokesman for the Canadian Auto Workers union, doesn't support
an inquiry but says staff members should get a second opinion on their metal
tests, something Dr. Smith also suggested last week.
The province is paying to bring in a CAW-recommended expert to treat staff
members who have metal contamination.
"The province also has to acknowledge that workers are sick, which they haven't
done, and they have to ensure there's compensation in place so these workers
can look after their families," Mr. Tomiczek said.
Health Minister Angus MacIsaac couldn't be reached for comment.