Researchers closer to report on rare lung disease among Range workers

It’s been a long time since I’ve read much about the study of mesothelioma occurrences among Iron Range workers. The Pioneer Press ran a story over the weekend.

The premise behind the state funding for this U of M study was that an unusual amount of mesothelioma was being found among current and former taconite industry workers. The worry was that fibers in the taconite itself might be causing this relative rare form of lung disease, most often found among people who have worked with asbestos fibers.

The researchers are not making a final conclusion yet, but left the door open for either declaring a definitive link between taconite and mesothelioma or no link at all. So, yeah. Stay tuned. I found the following excerpt from the PiPress story interesting, however:

On Thursday, researchers revealed that the study already has confirmed a 300 percent higher rate of mesothelioma on the Iron Range than the general population in Minnesota.

Thursday’s update, the first since October, also reported that Rangers have about 20 percent more lung cancer and 11 percent more heart disease than the general population.

Yet while lung cancer can be caused by smoking and heart disease from bad eating habits and obesity, mesothelioma can come only from exposure to certain kinds of airborne fibers.

Researchers said they simply aren’t finding many, if any, of the traditional asbestos-size mineral fibers in their study. So now they are focusing on shorter fibers. Once called “asbestos-like fibers,” researchers are now calling them “elongated mineral particles” because they are not truly asbestos.

It would appear the high incidence of other health issues, such as smoking, among Range miners will make it hard to say why mesothelioma is so much more prevalent here.

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