Thompson mine worker’s 2008 death caused by toxic gases, says former chief medical examiner

 

Evidence from a forensic pathologist contends that a former Thompson mine worker did not die of a heart attack as the coroner ruled in 2008, says the Manitoba Liberal Party, who are asking the provincial government to call an inquiry to investigate.

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Dr. Peter Markesteyn, Manitoba’s former chief medical examiner, said in a Sept. 4 letter to the Workers Compensation Board, that he believed David Fifi, 52, died Nov. 6, 2008 as a result of pulmonary edema caused by exposure to toxic gases.

“Mr. David Fifi died with myocardial disease, not because of it,” said Markesteyn, who based his opinion on clinical records and documents relating to Fifi having been exposed to toxic gases.

“The deceased suffered increasingly respiratory problems after he had gone home sick on the day prior to his admissions to hospital,” wrote Markesteyn. “’Her had trouble breathing.’ This had become increasingly worse, which led him to call an ambulance. He had woken up short of breath. The ambulance report states him to be in ‘respiratory distress.’ The autopsy report confirms the clinical diagnosis of pulmonary edema as the cause of death.”

Markesteyn said in a letter to Liberal River Heights MLA Jon Gerrard in July that the pathologist that did the autopsy after Fifi died did not know about his having been exposed to toxic gases and that made his determination of what caused Fifi’s death less reliable.

The Liberal party first called for in inquiry into Fifi’s death in the spring of 2017 and says the only way to get the truth is through a public inquiry.

“The government of Manitoba has as a primary obligation to ensure that people work in safety and get home alive, and we need an inquiry to understand why the NDP government and others ignored and abandoned David Fifi and his co-workers,” said Liberal leader Douglas Lamont in a Sept. 11 press release.“The Fifi family and others deserve more than answers – they deserve justice, and a public inquiry is an essential first step in making that happen.”

David Fifi’s widow Lila told Canadian Occupational Health and Safety News (COHSN) magazine that David phoned her unexpectedly around 5 a.m. on Nov. 6, 2008 and said that he was having trouble breathing. He went to the hospital in an ambulance but died shortly after 8 a.m. Fifi was working with Comstock Canada as part of a team to install a new electrostatic precipitator (ESP) at Vale’s Thompson smelter at the time of his death.

Manitoba’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled that David Fifi’s death was not work-related and Manitoba Workplace Safety & Health concurred with the medical examiner’s determination that his death was the result of natural causes, COHSN reported, but his widow Lila Fifi does not agree.

“He was blasted for three times a day for six days in a row and there’s not one citation,” Lila Fifi told COHSN. “The day that David passed away, they shut that job down for two days, and they put it up and running, and they haven’t done anything.”

Vale Canada vice-president of corporate affairs Coy McPhee told COHSN last year that the company had provided proper respiratory protection and gas monitors for the workers replacing the ESP.

“There’s nothing to connect this to any workplace-related exposure,” he said. “That does not take away from the tragedy of him losing his life, but it certainly was not workplace-related.”

McPhee told the CBC this week that he hadn’t seen Markesteyn’s findings and couldn’t comment on them.

Witness statements obtained by COHSN showed that some of David Fifi’s colleagues said that they did not have enough gas monitors on the job and that David had been coughing on the day of his death.

Lila Fifi told the CBC that the Workers Compensation Board said her husband’s case is being reviewed as a result of Markesteyn’s findings.

 

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