Silicosis in a debilitating and often fatal occupational lung disease caused by exposure to silica dust. It has been recognized as an acute health problem in the mining industry since 1870, though it has probably affected miners for as long as they have been exposed to crystalline silica dust in underground environments. In 1944, the McIntyre Mine in Timmins began to experiment with aluminum dust as a prophylactic against silicosis, dousing miners in their change room with the metallic powder to guard against the ill-health effects of silica dust. The industry quickly established a non-profit, the McIntyre Research Foundation, to spread the so-called McIntyre method around the globe. Although there was very little evidence it prevented silicosis, the use of aluminum dust continued until 1979, when concerns about links to diseases such as ALS, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s spelled the end of the McIntyre Method. A recent advocacy effort, the McIntyre Powder Project, has recently garnered $1 million to assist former miners suffering from illness.
This project will document the history of the McIntyre Research foundation using documents primarily from the Ontario Archives. It will ask how a medical treatment based on flimsy evidence could have spread so broadly and to what extent the mining industry used it as a form of protective cover to deflect attention from ongoing health problems with silicosis.