Miners’ health issues not easy to figure out

The Duluth News-Tribune and others are reporting that the state health department has begun compiling data on the Iron Range miners who died from a rare form of cancer. The findings are inconclusive, other than few of the miners involved worked in a ceiling tile factory in Cloquet. That was the story many officials and mining company apologists were pushing a few months ago.

Many results, fewer answers
By Steve Kuchera, Duluth News Tribune – 12/08/2007

A new analysis of information on 58 Minnesota mine workers who died from mesothelioma reveals a large variation in where and for how long they worked in the industry.

The Minnesota Department of Health, which did the analysis, will use the findings in preparing multi-year studies aimed at determining what might have caused the rare, asbestos-related lung cancer. Those studies will be done in collaboration with the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.

Jeff Mandel, a professor at the school and one of the leaders on the planned research, said the analysis contains some interesting information, but points to the need for further study.

“The critical question here is whether exposures in the workplace are somehow related to these [58] cases,” he said. “The reason for this number of cases really has to be determined. It has caused a lot of questions in people’s minds and a lot of concern. The only way those issues are going to be addressed is to do a more formal investigation.”

Mesothelioma is a rare, fatal form of cancer seen almost exclusively in people who have been exposed to asbestos. The disease shows up at about twice the expected rate in Northeastern Minnesota, raising questions about a possible relationship between respiratory disease and mining work.

The 58 miners — all men — were among 72,000 people who worked in the state’s iron mining industry between the 1930s and 1982.

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