November 14, 2017 5:51 pm
Updated: November 15, 2017 9:42 am

Lights Out: The Rise and Fall of CGE Peterborough Part 4: ‘Toxic Legacy’

Hundreds of former Canadian General Electric Peterborough workers are fighting for compensation for illness they say was caused by exposure to toxic chemicals at the factory.


Several hundred former Canadian General Electric workers are fighting for compensation for occupational illness. They say they were made sick by their exposure to chemicals while working at the Peterborough factory over the past 50 years. They say those chemicals include solvents, lead and asbestos.

General Electric has gone on record as saying it has always followed the best health and safety practices based on the best knowledge available to them at the time.

READ MORE: General Electric shutting down Peterborough plant in 2018

Sue James, whose father died after years at CGE, works with a group created to support and organize the claimants.  The GE Retirees Advisory Committee issued a report detailing the chemicals and materials used at the plant.

“I would say over the years, thousands, and some have never put claims in, some are long gone, so we fight for the 300 plus that are still living with cancer or who have passed away,” James said.

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Jim Dufresne, who is a prostate cancer survivor, was employed at CGE for 42 years including working with trichloroethylene.

“If there’s still fumes down there, the leader told us he says,’Well you’ll know if you go down too early, cause you’ll get a tingling in your testicles.’  The leader that told us that, he died of testicular cancer,” Dufresne said.

READ MORE: Retired Peterborough CGE workers recall the ‘Dynamic Decades’

A retiree who wants to pursue damages must file a compensation claim with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).  Many of the former workers have complaints about the way the way they have been treated by the WSIB.  Sandy LeBeau’s husband, Ron, died of cancer in 1995. She says exposure to asbestos made him sick and eventually killed him. LeBeau says her claim has been denied unfairly.

“The denial came back, that Ron did not work with asbestos. Excuse me, he worked in a crane, with brake pads of asbestos that filtered over his head every time the crane brakes were applied. He had asbestos mitts, he worked in the ovens, they had asbestos blankets in the ’70s that covered these ovens which were the size of a car garage,” LeBeau said.

In September, the WSIB announced it would be re-opening 250 CGE occupational illness claims that were previously denied.

The WSIB says the review team will look at:

  • Some types of cancer where updated scientific research supports linkages between specific levels of chemical exposures and specific illnesses.
  • Claims where advances in technology may allow next-of-kin to be identified who had previously not been.
  • Claims where a greater understanding of the intensity of exposure and/or number of agents exposed to, may impact the decision.

Since 1993, the WSIB has heard more than 2,400 claims regarding the Peterborough plant. The WSIB states that 80 per cent of those claims were allowed.

The Peterborough plant is scheduled to close in 2018. The remaining 150 wrokers  are finishing up outstanding orders but after that, there will be no new production.

At its height, the Peterborough facility employed as many as 6,000 people.

— With files from Sarah Deeth 

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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