Miners’ health study carries hefty price tag

Yesterday, lawmakers learned that it will cost $5.5 million to do a study about the effects of the taconite mining process on miners’ health. For years, anecdotal evidence and incomplete reports have suggested a link between working in the mining industry and a rare form of cancer. The question now becomes, do people in power actually have the fortitude to fund this expensive but comprehensive study? Rep. Tom Rukavina is quoted as saying the state should follow through when the governor balks. Here’s the roundup from today’s Duluth News-Tribune with more after the jump.

Miners lung study to cost $5.5 million
Lee Bloomquist, Duluth News Tribune – 12/18/2007

EVELETH — A study of the causes of lung disease among Northeastern Minnesota iron ore miners will cost $5.5 million. And some people are wondering where money to answer the longstanding health question will come from.

“We’re going to find the money,” state Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, assured about 50 people Monday at a meeting of the Minnesota Taconite Workers Lung Health Partnership at Iron Range Resources headquarters in Eveleth. “I would like to find all of it up-front and secure it away.”

The partnership is aimed at determining once and for all what has caused a sharp increase in mesothelioma deaths among Iron Range miners.

Mesothelioma is a rare, usually fatal lung disease related to asbestos exposure.

A statewide cancer surveillance system determined that 58 of 72,000 miners who worked in the iron ore industry between the 1950s and 1983 died from the disease.

The disease rate among the miners is much higher than the expected rate in Northeastern Minnesota. But it never has been determined what causes the disease.

Researchers determined in 2003 that 17 of the miners probably developed the disease from commercial asbestos dust. Some critics said the Health Department didn’t look hard enough at mine dust.

The new study will examine whether working in the mines is a risk factor for lung disease, whether other diseases occur as a result of working in a mine, and whether spouses are at risk, said Dr. Jeffrey Mandel, University of Minnesota School of Public Health associate professor. The exhaustive five-year Health Department study would include health examinations of current and former workers and spouses, air sampling in Iron Range communities and near mines, lake-bottom sampling, mineral analysis and historical data, Mandel said.

“This is the time to figure out what is going on,” Mandel said. “The rate here is clearly elevated. There’s no point in waiting longer.”

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