Occupational Health

Workers in all petrochemical plants are undeniably exposed to an extremely high concentration of chemicals on a daily basis. It has been acknowledged by representatives for companies within Chemical Valley that in past years the chemical companies where guilty of things they would not do now. They claim to have cleaned up the environment and made up for past mistakes, but those who are most familiar with conditions there would agree that this attempt at redemption does not even begin to address the harm still being dnne to Chemical Valley workers.

History of Health Hazards: The Holmes Foundry Story

Image of the present day abandoned Holmes Foundry factory.

In the late 1990s Jim Brophy and Margaret Keith where drawn to Sarnia as the aftermath of the deplorable health conditions in the Holmes Foundry factories from 1918 to 1974 were becoming undeniable and applicable to current occupational health issues. In 1987 the Ministry of Labour commissioned a health study to judge the effects of the extremely high levels of asbestos exposure that Holmes workers experienced. The findings of the study were staggering. There was a 600% increase in lung cancer mortality among the Holmes workers exposed to asbestos for two years or more, an 11,000% increase in respiratory disease mortality and five cases of mesothelioma cited among former Holmes workers.

Blayne Kinart, a former worker in chemical valley died from Mesothelioma on July 6, 2004.

Blayne Kinart, a former worker in chemical valley died from Mesothelioma on July 6, 2004.
Photo by Louie Palu

By the end of 1996 the number of mesothelioma cases had skyrocketed to 63.

“The regulatory system and the government just totally failed to protect these workers” – Jim Brophy

Families of Holmes workers are still attempting to deal with many delayed health issues as well as obtain compensation for the harm done to them and their loved ones.

To connect with the family support group click here.





A Movement for Redemption

“There will be a day of reckoning for them. I don’t know when it is but I hope it’s as hard and hurts as much as it does for me to walk away. . . .” Blayne Kinart, 57 year old former millwright in Chemical Valley and victim of mesothelioma.

Protesting the use of asbestos worldwide

Many of the victims and families of victims have joined a national campaign to halt Canada’s mining and exportation of asbestos around the world.

Several news articles about the campaign:

“Sarnia and Lambton County This Week” October 12, 2011  articles covering marches held to support families and advocate for a ban on asbestos.

“Sarnia Rallies Against Asbestos” from The Star.com


The Injustice Continues

The issues faced by the Holmes workers are some of the same health issues that chemical plant workers are dealing with today. The vast majority of the workers are still men and for men living in the community in 2004 (well after the Holmes Foundry closed), the overall cancer rate was about 34% higher than the provincial average, the lung-cancer rate 50% higher, the mesothelioma rate 5x higher and the asbestosis rate 9x higher. Throughout their work in Sarnia, Jim Brophy and Margaret Keith continued to find an extremely high number of cases of (the following incomplete lists are known causes found in many petrochemical factories):

  • Mesothelioma– caused by first or second-hand exposure to asbestos.
  • Lung Cancer– caused by exposure to radon, asbestos, arsenic, diesel exhaust, and some forms of silica and chromium.
  • Asbestosis– caused by first or second-hand exposure to asbestos.
  • Gastrointestinal cancer– caused by exposure to crystalline silica, lead dust, leaded gasoline, carbon monoxide, zinc dust, hydraulic fluids, and nitrates.
  • Head and Neck Cancer– caused by exposure to asbestos, arsenic, chromium, copper, creosote, radiation, nickle.
  • Rectal cancer– caused by exposure to asbestos, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide.
  • Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (COPD)– caused by exposure to cadmium, isocyanates, fumes from welding, and silica dust

The following table is a partial emissions report of Sarnia by the CAREX Emissions Mapping Project. The substances in yellow are known to cause the above-listed illnesses.





Particulate Matter































































See Info


Polychlorinated Biphenyls

See Info



< 0.5


The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registration has compiled a list of toxic substances and their effects, here.

Occupational carcinogen list by The Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Worker Support

Although Chemical Valley industry has not fully cleaned up their act, there are several organizations that are working to improve the occupational health of workers in Canada’s industry.

Click logo to link to OHCOW Sarnia/Ontario site

Occupational Health Clinic for Ontario Workers Inc.

The Sarnia branch of this organization was opened by The Ontario Ministry of Labour in the late 1990’s as a result of the growing concern over the asbestos disease epidemic. It provides accessible services in the following areas:

  • A personal service to answer any questions concerning occupational health and safety.
  • Medical diagnostic services.
  • Increase awareness of health and safety issues by outreach, education and promoting prevention strategies.
  • Research services to investigate and report on potential workplace illnesses and injuries.

The clinic has suffered opposition from the Sarnia petrochemical industry and the Ontario Compensation Board, as well as the conservative party of the provincial government.  But support from the chemical workers unions and the community saved the organization.

I would say that it was a real win for the whole community that was spearheaded by the families of the asbestos disease victims, the unions, and a critical media.- Jim Brophy

Funded originally by The Ontario Ministry of Labour and currently through The Ontario Compensation Board through The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.

To contact the Sarnia/Windsor clinic:                                                                                                                                                                                         3129 Marentette Avenue, Unit #1 Windsor, Ontario N8X 4G1
Tel 519.973.4800 / 1.800.565.3185
Fax 519.973.1906
Email windsor@ohcow.on.ca

Click logo to link to OCRC site.

Occupational Cancer Research Centre

Established in 2009, the OCRC is an organization dedicated to researching the causes and prevention of occupational cancer. Their findings are used to inform programs to prevent the exposure to carcinogens and improve the health of workers in Canada. Primarily focusing on Ontario, findings can be applied to hazardous work environments in all of Canada.

They are working to answer:

  • What carcinogens are found in which types of Ontario workplaces?
  •  What is the risk of cancer associated with today’s exposures? How are workplace exposures evolving?
  • To what are workers exposed, for how long, and at what concentrations?
  • What is the burden of workplace cancer in Ontario?
  • What can be done to prevent exposure to carcinogens?

The OCRC is funded and partnered with Cancer Care Ontario, The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, The Canadian Cancer Society Ontario Division, and the United Steelworkers.

Contact information:                                                                                                                                                                                                           505 University Avenue, 14th Floor
Toronto, Ontario, M5G 1X3

E-mail: ocrc@occupationalcancer.ca
Telephone: 416-217-1849
Fax: 416-971-6888

Click logo to link to CAREX site.

CARcinogen EXposure Canada

A research and surveillance project begun in 2003, CAREX Canada combines government resources and the work of researchers from the University of British Columbia to generate a surveillance program for carcinogens all over Canada. They have created comprehensive tools to track exposure, in communities and work places, of well-identified as well as probable cancer causing agents.

They currently offer two tools to allow users to visualize the exposure data:

eRISK- An application that shows indicators of potential lifetime excess cancer risks for environmental exposure. It also compares local indicators to national risk levels.

Emissions Mapping Project- Making use of Google Earth, this program plots areas of exposure for all of Canada.  It shows the toxicity rankings of watersheds, provinces, health regions and major cities with specific information on levels, types and toxicity of emitted carcinogens.

By 2017 CAREX Canada plans to:

  • Educate stakeholders to use provided information for evidence-based cancer prevention policy and practice.
  • Design web-based tools to facilitate the use of data.
  • Include an expanded range of users in current network of stakeholders.
  • Maintain data credibility and relevancy.

CAREX Canada is funded by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, WorkSafeBC and The Workers’ Compensation Board of Manitoba.

Contact information-                                                                                           School of Population and Public Health
University of British Columbia                                           
2206 East Mall Vancouver BC V6T 1Z3
Telephone: (604) 827-5622
Toll Free: 1-855-827-5622
Email: info@carexcanada.ca

Click logo to link to CCOHS site.

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety

The goal of the CCOHS is to provide for the physical, psychosocial and mental health of Canadian workers. Established in 1978 CCOHS offers the following:

  • Products and services for purchase that are designed to help organizations prevent health and safety issues in a workplace.
  • A free question and answer service.
  • Online discussion forum.
  • Two newsletters, published monthly and bi-monthly.

CCOHS is a non-profit organization that is funded by the Canadian Government and anyone who decides to become a paying member.

Contact information-                                                                                
Phone:905-572-2981 Fax: 905-572-2206  
Address: 135 Hunter Street East, Hamilton ON Canada L8N 1M5

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