Researchers studying an unusually high incidence of mesothelioma among Iron Range miners and their families reported they are “making progress” as five-year program gets underway, according to the Star Tribune, which serves Minneapolis and St. Paul. The $4.9 million research program was funded by the Minnesota state legislature in April.
The program is being directed by the University of Minnesota. Researchers held an open meeting yesterday evening to share initial results. The program, which involves health screenings for residents of the Iron Range, particularly mine workers and their families, began in Summer 2007, but got a boost when the legislature approved the funding to expand the study significantly. The funding established the Minnesota Taconite Workers Lung Health Partnership task force.
The Star Tribune reports that the program will expand in 2009 to include a respiratory health assessment of 1,200 active and retired miners, as well as 800 spouses or partners. Participants will be selected at random. Physical testing will be handled by the Virginia Regional Medical Center, and testing is exected to run for a period of about 6-9 months.
While mesothelioma is almost exclusively associated with asbestos, researchers are investigating whether or not there is a link between taconite dust – which is produced in the Iron Range mining process – and mesothelioma. To date 58 mesothelioma deaths have been linked to the Iron Range.
According to the Star Tribune report, there are four ongoing health studies associated with this project: a mortality study under the direction of the Minnesota Department of Health related to miner deaths; a cancer rate incidence study; a respiratory health assessment for miners or former miners; and an occupational exposure study. In addition, the paper reports two environmental studies are part of the process as well, under the direction of the Natural Resources and Research Institute the University of Minnesota Duluth. These will examine sediments in lake bottoms as well as airborne particle measurements.