Dr. Victor Cecilioni : Environmentalist of the Year – 1979

The air was a poisonous purée of nickle dust and fumes, and it killed Guido Franchini. By age 61 his lungs were destroyed. He sat around five years unable to work, then he died.

What killed him was the seven years he had worked in Inco’s sintering plant in Sudbury, but no one in officialdom would believe it. “Natural causes” everyone said, and the Workmen’s Compensation Board denied his claim — until Dr. Victor Cecilioni came along. Dr. Cecilioni attended meeting after meeting — all out of town, all at his own expense — to help the United Steelworkers get Inco’s plant recognized as the lung destroyer that it was. Then he helped disabled worker after disabled worker prepare his case.

That’s typical of the man. His father sweated at the coke ovens 11 and 13 hours a day to put him through medical school. After he graduated, Dr. Cecilioni retired his father and went to work by the coke ovens in his stead — not shovelling coal but treating the men who did. No affluent west-end practice for him. he went to work and to live in northeastern Hamilton.

For 45 years he has helped steelworkers and their families — and has watched cancer eat their lungs. Lung cancer kills five times as often downwind from the stacks as upwind. It kills five times as often among his patients and neighbours. He noticed this discrepancy, and to help his neighbours he spent untold hours documenting it for the medical literature. Plus 10 years of spare time and $10,000 trying to document its cause.

In these and other ways too many to mention, Dr. Cecilioni has helped steelworkers and the people of Hamilton. There’s no way we could repay him for all his help, nor would he let us. He has refused even to accept reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses.

What can we say? Thank you, Dr. Cecilioni!