In 2004, MiningWatch Canada partnered with two women’s groups in the remote mining communities of Wabush and Labrador City (together known as Lab West) to consider the health implications of living in a mining town for community women. The Labrador West Status of Women Council and the Femmes francophones de l’Ouest du Labrador were interested in a community-centred participatory approach to better understand, document and communicate the health concerns of women in Labrador West. MiningWatch Canada was interested in the project because it has been our experience in working with communities affected by mining that it is often women who express health concerns and are motivated to address them.
The primary goals of this project were to stimulate dialogue with and between community women on the perceived impacts of mining on women’s health in Lab West, to document the findings resulting from these discussions, and to present these findings to the community. We adopted the holistic definition of health that is used by the World Health Organization (WHO), looking at health not merely as the absence of disease, but as the complete social, psychological, spiritual and physical well-being of a person, with a focus on the individual’s own views of their well-being.
In preparation for the “Overburdened” project, MiningWatch Canada commissioned CCSG Associates to conduct a review of epidemiological, toxicological, and community-based literature that examines the effects of mining – both toxicological and social – on women’s health. The review found that little is known about the toxicological effects of common mining-related minerals on women’s health throughout the stages of a woman’s life cycle. Nonetheless, physiological conditions specific to women, such as pregnancy and lactation, and to female physiology in aging, may facilitate the release into the blood stream of metals that are stored in bone, causing health problems.
The Lab West women conducted research on the history of mining in the community and sought to identify historical and current studies that track emissions from the mines and assess environmental impacts and worker and community health. They also gathered information from provincial government officials, union representatives and lung and cancer associations in the province. A technical advisory team was established by MiningWatch Canada. A Community Centered Research workshop with Catherine Coumans produced a questionnaire for health professionals and a community interview questionnaire in both official languages. When community interviews were underway, Susan Moodie of CCSG Associates visited Lab West. She provided training on community monitoring and collected water, soil, vegetation and dust samples. Significantly, the mines were both closed due to a strike at this time. The CCSG report and the final reports of the project were launched at a well-attended community meeting in Lab West on February 15, 2005.