When Mitch LaPrade was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) in 2005 at the age of 44, he was floored. “My wife and I were always trying to figure out, where do you get that? We didn’t even know what leukemia was,” he told CBC.
Then his doctor asked about the solvents LaPrade used to clean the presses working as a pre-press technologist at a printing plant in Ontario. Benzene is a known carcinogen, and has been linked to various forms of leukemia. LaPrade said he was never given protective clothing like gloves or masks while on the job. When he learned that the chemicals he was working with could have made him sick, he started wearing his own mask to work, often being poked fun of by coworkers for his caution.
LaPrade sought workers compensation from Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), and fought to prove that his cancer was caused by benzene exposure in the workplace. It took more than a decade, but LaPrade and his wife finally prevailed. His victory could change how others sickened by benzene exposure in the workplace in Canada are compensated.
Hundreds of thousands of people are exposed to benzene in the workplace every day in Canada and the U.S. despite mounting evidence that benzene exposure can have detrimental effects on a person’s health. Short-term exposure to high levels of benzene can be deadly. Lower levels can cause symptoms such as dizziness, vomiting and unconsciousness. Long-term exposure can alter the production of red blood cells, lowering the immune system and leading to anemia and leukemia, including chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
“All this fighting that we’ve done has paid off,” says LaPrade, who is now 57. “Because now somebody believes us.”