Study: Iron Range mining, mesothelioma linked

Today, officials shared the long-awaited University of Minnesota study analyzing why the rare cancer mesothelioma is so prevalent among miners who worked on the Mesabi Iron Range. The result? Researchers see a link between working in the mines and the disease, but that dust from taconite mining is only one of several factors contributing to this link.

Minnesota Public Radio was there, and posted a three-author story this evening:

Mandel said the researchers are not finished with their investigation.

“We’re going to be looking at other types of fibers, silica, respirable dust, which is the fraction that has iron particles in it, and it’ll be the entirety of all those that probably will lead us to a conclusion one way or the other,” he said. 

Fundamentally, according to comments by the researchers in the story, taconite mining is dusty work and that dust is probably a factor in employee health problems. However, the dust does not affect spouses of miners. Communities around mines are in no danger. In fact, the air here on the Iron Range tests better than Minneapolis and the state average. The study also suggests that new dust containment measures by taconite mines seems to be holding down the current health risk. Most of the cases are confined to workers who mined in taconite mining’s earlier days.

The researchers also touched on other factors like “lifestyle,” which I’m pretty sure means “smoking” but possibly other things as well. Smoking was nearly universal in the mines for decades and remains very common.

The take-away was that mines are doing some part to reduce the dust risk, but that employees, too, should be mindful of the risks and take measures to avoid breathing in too much dust. I imagine this means using face masks on dusty tasks. Though health risks from mining are present, this study does not condemn mining practices as they now stand.

At least, that’s my read on the information available. More results will be released in the future.

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