State won't support Cliffs' cancer study
The Minnesota Department of Health and the state Pollution Control Agency said Friday they won't participate in a Cleveland-Cliffs study examining the health of current and former workers at Northshore Mining Co. and its predecessor, Reserve Mini...
The Minnesota Department of Health and the state Pollution Control Agency said Friday they won't participate in a Cleveland-Cliffs study examining the health of current and former workers at Northshore Mining Co. and its predecessor, Reserve Mining Co.
Officials from Cleveland-Cliffs had said Thursday they hoped to complete the two-year study in cooperation with the two state agencies.
But the agencies said "changed circumstances" have led them instead to focus their resources on a more-comprehensive study of mesothelioma among all Northeastern Minnesota iron ore miners in a partnership between the University of Minnesota and the health department.
The rare, fatal lung disease is linked to asbestos exposure. Although 58 iron ore mine workers have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, it has never been determined if the disease can be caused by exposure to taconite dust.
In August, health department Commissioner Dianne Mandernach resigned after it was learned the department had delayed for a year announcing an additional 35 mesothelioma cases among miners. In June, another six miners were discovered to have the disease. Those cases were in addition to17 announced in 2003.
A public outcry from miners, their families and lawmakers followed the news of the health department's delayed release of information, and the state vowed to begin a large-scale study of taconite miners and mesothelioma in conjunction with the U of M.
"In light of changed circumstances earlier this year, the MPCA has decided to redirect all necessary resources toward supporting the work of the partnership, rather than the Cleveland-Cliffs' proposed worker study," MPCA Commissioner Brad Moore said in a letter to Cleveland-Cliffs, obtained Friday by the News Tribune.
Health department spokesman John Stieger said Friday that his department will not participate in Cleveland-Cliffs' study.
The announcements mean that Cleveland-Cliffs will have to perform its own study through an independent firm.
Dana Byrne, Cleveland-Cliffs spokesman, said Friday that company officials hadn't yet received communications from the health department or Pollution Control Agency indicating they wouldn't participate in the Cliffs' study.
But Byrne said Cliffs would still proceed with its study as a commitment to its workers and the community. The Cliffs study would be narrower in focus than the state's mesothelioma study, he said.
"We're disappointed that they have chosen not to participate in our worker health study," Byrne said. "Our study focuses on whether there are any elevated health risks associated with Northshore's ore. We intend to participate fully with the broader U of M study and will share information and data."
In March, Cleveland-Cliffs announced plans to pay for a study of miners who worked at its Northshore Mining facilities in Silver Bay and Babbitt from 1952 to today.
Across Northeastern Minnesota, 145 cases of mesothelioma have been diagnosed among men since 1988 -- more than twice the number expected. Some of the elevation in men is attributed to an asbestos ceiling-tile factory in Cloquet, where more than 5,000 worked.
There has been no elevation in mesothelioma rates among women in Northeastern Minnesota, according to the health department.
Iron Range lawmakers are asking Cleveland-Cliffs to shelve plans for its study, saying that parallel studies would only confuse the public about an already complex and emotional issue.
"I don't think anybody is going to give it [a Cleveland-Cliffs study] any credibility," said state Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia. "I think they're just throwing money away."
It can take as long as50 years to develop mesothelioma following exposure. That's what the university and health department study would be aimed at. The study probably will take three to four years and several million dollars to complete.