History of Medicine and Healthcare

Alex Souchen

2019 Award Recipient

Weapons of Mass Pollution: The Health and Environmental Hazards in Canada’s Munitions Industry During the Second World War


Alex completed his PhD in History at the University of Western Ontario in 2016. He is the author of War Junk: Munitions Disposal and Postwar Reconstruction in Canada which will be published by UBC Press in 2020.

His AMS Postdoctoral Fellowship focuses on the intersection of medical, environmental, and military history. During the Second World War, Canadian industries produced about 4.4 billion rounds of ammunition, 72 million artillery shells, and over 144,000 tons of Trinitrotoluene (TNT). Although this production was crucial to Allied victory, it was very dangerous work. Aside from accidents and fires, the potent mixtures of toxic chemicals contaminated landscapes and factories and infiltrated workers’ bodies.

The project’s main goal is to explore the health of munitions workers and the role that medical professionals played in Canada’s munitions industry during the war. What role did doctors and nurses play in mitigating the dangers and regulating the workplace? How was toxicity and pollution interpreted by workers and doctors in the 1940s? The project will also investigate the lingering environmental hazards of Canada’s military-industrial complex and the effectiveness of postwar cleanup operations. In addressing these issues, this research critically assesses the history of toxicity and risk prevention through an examination of workplace safety, medical treatments, and decontamination methods in the 1940s.