Keith Riel was president of Canadian Auto Workers Local 524 nearly a decade ago when the union pushed for a special medical intake clinic and a 10-year cancer mortality study at the Peterborough General Electric plant (in Ontario).
Riel, now retired from GE and a city councillor, isn’t surprised that in the years since the WSIB has paid out on more than 100 claims from GE workers and their survivors. He told The Examiner he thought the number should be higher.
“Hopefully the people, and widows, are getting what they deserve,” Riel said.
Aileen Hughes can only shake her head about the scope of the illnesses. Hughes’s husband, Morris, died from mesothelioma in September 2003.
Mesothelioma is an asbestos-related cancer that attacks the lungs. He was 72 and had worked with asbestos material at the Park St. plant.
Morris got a job with GE in Peterborough when he was 17, Aileen Hughes said, and worked for the company for 42 years.
He began getting sick in 2001, she said, experiencing fevers and shaking, symptoms the two attributed to a reaction to food.
By June 2002 Morris was struggling to breath.
Doctors initially suspected pneumonia. But after a battery of tests, they told the couple Morris had cancer and had about three months to live.
Hughes said her husband’s case was the first time anyone could prove an illness was directly related to work with asbestos at GE.
Morris’s illness helped spur the massive intake clinic for employees concerned about their asbestos exposure in 2004.
Christine Arnott, spokeswoman for the WSIB, said the board has received 230 asbestos-related claims from Peterborough GE employees over the past 20 years.
The board has allowed 112 of those claims. Between 2002 and 2011 alone, 107 General Electric workers received compensation packages for asbestos-related illness.