Two Canadian occupational health activists, who helped awaken Canadians to the perils of asbestos and the problems facing asbestos-related disease sufferers, are leaving the asbestos field in order to work on studying the cause of recent increases in breast cancer. Jim Brophy and Margaret Keith announced their decision to retire at an occupational health clinic in Port Edward, Ontario . They were honored at the clinic for their long service to the community, particularly their work in raising the profile of occupational diseases in Canada.
The pair came to Sarnia , Ontario in 1999 to help occupational health patients, and were shocked at the numbers of patients seeking help with asbestos-related conditions. Over the next nine years, Brophy and Keith helped more than 700 patients file claims for asbestos-related occupational diseases, and assisted more than 1000 additional sufferers establish the presence of asbestos markers in their lungs. Visibly emotional, Brophy told supporters how difficult the decision had been for him. “I leave with a lot of ambivalence,” he told the crowd, while also speaking well of the activists who came before him, including Bob Clark, a former foundry worker at Holmes Foundry, and Des Bradley, the father of current Sarnia mayor Mike Bradley. Asbestos exposure in Canada for many decades was kept almost a secret. Brophy and Keith did great work in expanding the public understanding of asbestos, and in educating workers about who was liable for their illnesses. One widow of a mesothelioma patient praised them fulsomely. Sandy Kinart said “What they’ve done for this community, the community doesn’t even understand. I’m speechless. For me personally, they gave me strength, they gave me hope and direction. I can’t thank them enough.”