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Former SaskEnergy employee who claimed his cancer was linked to gas exposure has died

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A former SaskEnergy employee who spoke out about the risks of exposure to carcinogenic compounds in natural gas has died from leukemia and stomach cancer.

Brian Hodgkinson, 69, spent 40 years working in the natural gas field while employed at SaskPower and SaskEnergy. He retired in 2014 and discovered he had leukemia – a blood cancer – a year later.

It wasn’t until 2022 that his wife Josie learned of the high risk of leukemia from exposure to benzene, a compound found in natural gas. She started doing research and even convinced a university research group to share their raw data with her so they could pass it on to an occupational health specialist in Saskatoon.

The doctor was convinced. In November 2022, he wrote a letter to their family doctor supporting their claim that his leukemia was work-related.

“As I noted in my first letter dated September 27, benzene is a known carcinogen (group 1) causing leukemia,” wrote Dr. Niels Koehncke of the Occupational Medicine Clinic at the University of Saskatchewan in its letter of support.

“I realize that we do not have specific information about Mr. Hodgkinson’s exposure in particular during his time at SaskEnergy. Nonetheless, I believe that these potential exposure levels, particularly over a working life, represent a risk of developing leukemia and support the occupational link of one’s leukemia.

Last year, Brian told CTV News he looked back on his 30 years of working in the field with new eyes. He said workers were constantly exposed to the gas and were not given proper protective equipment – ​​they even had to carry out “sniff tests” to measure the odor present in the gas.

“That’s where you go up to the gas meter in the house and sniff the natural gas and compare it to a machine.”

When they were called to the scene of a gas line break, they worked without protection, he says.

“No respirator, nothing. Just a pair of glasses.

The couple filed suit against SaskPower and SaskEnergy in November 2022. In a statement of defence, the two provincial Crown corporations denied any wrongdoing.

They denied Hodgkinson suffered any loss or injury and said – even if he did – it was due to his own negligence, saying he failed to follow safety procedures.

Josie, herself a former SaskEnergy employee, says Crown counsel later asked for the prosecution to be barred because Brian was covered by the WCB.

Josie says the large number of workers she knows of, just in the Saskatoon office, who have contracted blood cancer should be a major wake-up call.

“Since 2020, Brian is the third worker to die from leukemia. There are three other workers who have or have had leukemia or are currently in remission,” she said.

Josie claims SaskEnergy management told workers not to speak to her.

“This job killed Brian, but we are the bad guys because we made others aware of safety,” she said.

Brian died on March 5 while in hospice care. His funeral took place on March 15 at Holy Family Cathedral in Saskatoon.

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