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The Link Between Mesothelioma and Working in Taconite Mines

Researchers at the University of Minnesota have confirmed a correlation between the risk of mesothelioma and the amount of time that workers spent in taconite mines. Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer of the lining of the lung and abdominal cavity. It’s generally associated with exposure to another mineral fiber, asbestos, linking the disease to occupations where asbestos was used.

The findings which will be presented to the Minnesota Legislature were part of an ongoing 5-year, $4.9 million study of Taconite workers’ health.The researchers said that a person’s risk of getting mesothelioma increased by three percent for each year they works in a taconite mine. The study is potentially groundbreaking because the type of mineral fibers present in iron ore mining have not been previously linked to mesothelioma.

“One important finding of the work to date in that the risk of contracting mesothelioma is higher across the entirety of the Range among people who worked longer in the industry,” said Dr. Jeff Mandel, a School of Public Health environmental health expert and principal investigator of the study.”

The Minnesota Legislature commissioned the study in 2008 after data from the Minnesota Cancer Registry showed an apparent excess of cases of mesothelioma among Iron Range workers. The study’s objective is to determine whether dust-related lung disease, including mesothelioma, lung cancer and other non-malignant respiratory disease is related to working in the taconite industry.

The researchers found that the causes of death among taconite workers compared to Minnesotans as a group were higher than expected for mesothelioma, lung cancer and heart disease.

The researchers are still trying to determine if the increased risk of mesothelioma among taconite miners is a result of cumulative exposure to the microscopic mineral fibers present in taconite dust. They plan to do further data analysis in coming months.

Source: University of Minnesota School of Public Health Press Release

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Last Modified: March 4, 2019

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