What's taking so long?

Ty Dunham
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Opposition, union ask when dust study will be finished

Nick McGrath, Minister for Government Services and MHA for the Labrador West area, assures a study on dust levels at Wabush Mines will come soon, once other government departments give approval.

Nick McGrath, minister of service Newfoundland and Labrador, is under fire by NDP Health and Community Services critic Gerry Rogers.

 Last week, Rogers accused McGrath of brushing off the long-awaited dust study for Labrador West.

 Workers at IOC and Wabush Mines have become increasingly concerned with silica dust levels, which can lead to silicosis and cancer.

 Since the last dust study was carried out in 2000, the local unions have been pushing for a new study and re-examination of previous chest x-rays to ensure nothing was missed.

 Rogers raised the issue in a question period on November 29, 2012, asking McGrath why the medical review of mineworker's chest x-rays had not started despite Service Newfoundland and Labrador issuing a request for proposals in November, 2010.

 "Mr. Speaker, I ask the minister: Will the department fund a dust study of the communities to ensure that public health of the people of Labrador West is protected?"

McGrath told the House recent negotiations had been made with a company to carry out an audit on the dust study.

 "We are very aware of the dust problems, especially in the all the industrial areas in our province, and this is part of the negotiations that we were working on to have this dust study done."

 Ron Thomas, president of United Steelworkers local 5795, also accuses McGrath of not taking the study seriously.

 Thomas said the Minister, who is also MHA for Labrador West, spoke at a Christmas party for union members and retirees on Dec. 7 and 14. According to Thomas, McGrath told the union members there would be news about the dust study by the end of that week.

 "He was quite vocal about it, with 300 people there and he said, 'your president will be very happy, we're going to have something back to him on the dust study by the end of the week'."

 Thomas said when he still didn't hear anything during or after Christmas he contacted McGrath on Jan. 3.

 "He said it was one of his priorities and he's going to get it done right away. Here we are on the 23rd and I still haven't heard anything. So when the hell is very soon? We've been pushing this since 2010 and here we are in 2013. Three years is a bit much."

 Thomas said it's gone too far.

 "He's not taking it serious enough and it's a huge concern for anyone who works and has worked in the mine."

 Minister says it's a priority

 However, McGrath denies being anything but diligent on the getting the study.

 "First of all, I take it very seriously," he told The Labradorian last week. "I also like to work with the union members and with the president, thus the conversations I've had with Ron Thomas. Like anything, I can't just click my fingers and make something happen."

 McGrath said the issue is not just sitting on someone's desk being ignored.

 "There's no easy way for me to say it, and I know the public hates to hear 'it's in the system', but there is a process that this has to go through."

McGrath said he has made the dust study a priority in his department and has tried to expedite it to make it happen sooner than later. The study will happen, and it's just a matter of going through the process, he said.

 "When I first spoke with Ron (Thomas) and said I will try to expedite this, I was hoping to have a resolution by the end of 2012. Unfortunately because of it's way of working through the system, it hasn't happened.

"But it is prioritized, it's in the system now like I told Mr. Thomas, and it's working its way through the system."

 McGrath doesn't foresee any problems in getting approvals for the study from the various government approvals. Once those approvals are in place, the dust study will proceed, he said.

 "Where there are different departments involved, I can't just magically make it happen. But it certainly has a huge priority with me and I take it extremely seriously. I live in the area and represent the people in the area, and this dust study is important to me."

McGrath said it's not the only item that crosses government desks looking for approval, and that makes it tough to accelerate the process.

 "There are hundreds of thousands of things trying to be moved through. Once this was brought to my attention I did move it to the top of my list; I want to make it happen. I'm not just politicizing by saying it's in the system."

Funding has already been allocated for the study and has been approved in McGrath's department. He says once the request for the study has passed through the treasury board it becomes a matter of final approval.

 "Unfortunately, because I can't give a straight date on when it will happen, they (unions) feel I'm staggering on it, but there's nothing further from the truth.

 "I've been advocating for it and hopefully in the very near future we will see a resolution to it."

 reporter@theaurora.ca

Organizations: NDP Health and Community Services, IOC, Service Newfoundland and Labrador The Labradorian

Geographic location: Labrador West, Newfoundland and Labrador

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