Mesothelioma Deaths Rise among Minnesota Miners

The Duluth News Tribune, a news source serving the Northland area of Minnesota, reported that the number of Iron Rangers who have died due to mesothelioma is surprisingly high. The total number of deaths last reported by the State Health Officials in 2010, which was 63, has risen to 82 at last check this year. The Tribune reports that “health officials say they found the additional cases by checking death records in other states for former Iron Range residents who moved out of Minnesota.” Concerns over mining workers’ health are being complied for the long-term Taconite Workers Health Study, which began in 2008 and is slated to conclude in mid-2012, the Duluth paper reports. The study was approved by state lawmakers in 2008 at the cost of $4.9 million. The article goes on to explain that the study is divided into five parts, including “an occupational exposures assessment to determine how and where the asbestos came from; a mortality study that reviews the cause of death for deceased taconite workers; a cancer incidence study to see whether cancer rates are higher on the iron Range; an environmental study of current airborne particulates to check for asbestos levels; and a respiratory health study of living taconite workers and their spouses.” The Duluth news source reports that early results indicate “1,681 taconite workers, of about 46,000 who ever worked in the industry, developed some sort of lung cancer,” including mesothelioma. The lead researcher in the Iron Range study, Dr. Jeffrey Mandel, associate professor at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health, stated that “a ‘back-of-the-envelope’ analysis shows the mesothelioma rate is considerably higher than it should be.” The Tribune also notes that researchers are still “unclear where the exposure to asbestos occurred.” Earlier reports suggest the exposure came about mainly from “workers who dealt with commercial asbestos, such as insulation on pipes, furnaces and boilers. But others have speculated that asbestos-like fibers within taconite rock released during processing may be causing the mesothelioma problem,” the Tribune explains. The Tribune explains that “results from each study will be made public after they are completed, and a final overall report is expected after that.” Mining has long since been a profession noted for its potential for asbestos exposure, not only in the United States, but also abroad. The Tribune estimates that approximately 80,000 workers have been involved in mining in the Minnesota area alone since operations first began during the late 1800s. This study is focused on an estimated 46,000 miners who were charged with the removal of taconite, a low concentrate ore, since the 1950s. Health testing was conducted last year on “1,300 current and former taconite workers and 500 of their spouses. The Rangers, randomly selected by university researchers and who participated voluntarily, filled out health questionnaires, provided blood samples, had chest X-rays and completed tests to measure their lung function,” the news source explains.
  • Myers, John. (October 18, 2011) “More Iron Range mesothelioma deaths found.” Retrieved on October 18, 2011 from the Duluth Tribune.
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