Iron Range taconite health report to be releasedPeer-reviewed results from the University of Minnesota study into why many Iron Rangers are dying of a rare lung disease will be made public in April.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
Peer-reviewed results from the University of Minnesota study into why many Iron Rangers are dying of a rare lung disease will be made public in April.
Researchers in the nearly $5 million Minnesota Taconite Workers Health Study said today that they will hold a public meeting at 3 p.m. April 12 at the Mountain Iron Community Center to explain the conclusions reached in the effort that started in 2008.
At least 82 Iron Rangers have died in recent years from mesothelioma, which often doesn’t appear until 30 to 40 years after initial exposure to asbestos fibers. The disease always is fatal and only is caused by exposure to asbestos or similar fibers.
It’s estimated about 80,000 workers have been involved in mining since the first operations began in Minnesota in the late 1800s. Researchers are focusing on the roughly 46,000 people born since 1920 who worked in the production of taconite, which has been mined and processed in Minnesota since the 1950s.
Last June, in the most recent update on the study, researchers revealed that the study confirmed a 300 percent higher rate of mesothelioma on the Iron Range than the general population in Minnesota. That report also noted Rangers have about 20 percent more lung cancer and 11 percent more heart disease than the general population.
Yet while lung cancer can be caused by smoking and heart disease from bad eating habits and obesity, mesothelioma can come only from exposure to certain kinds of airborne fibers. Researchers said they didn’t find many, if any, of the traditional asbestos-size mineral fibers in their study. So they also looked at shorter fibers. Once called “asbestos-like fibers,” researchers now are calling them “elongated mineral particles” because they are not truly asbestos.
The health study, headed by the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health and funded by the 2008 Minnesota Legislature, had five distinct parts:
But in the update provided last June, key researchers confided that they may never find a link between a high rate of fatal mesothelioma and the taconite iron ore industry — that the high rate of mesothelioma deaths among Rangers may have been caused by exposure long ago and far away.
Some Rangers have speculated that the lung disease killing their cohorts comes from the minerals in the rock released by the process of mining low-grade iron ore and processing it into taconite pellets. Researchers looked at that but say it’s possible the exposure came from previous jobs, such as in the ship-building industry or onboard asbestos-laden Navy ships, or handling asbestos molds or insulation while working in taconite plants.