The Minnesota Department of Health reported this week that a 59th case of mesothelioma was identified in an Iron Range mine worker. This is the latest bad news in an ongoing examination of unusually high rates of mesothelioma among the miners. The state government recently approved $4.9 million to study the situation.
According to the Duluth News Tribune, the news of the latest mesothelioma diagnosis was discovered as the result of a comparison study done by the Minnesota Department of Health, comparing 72,000 Iron Range miners against the Minnesota Cancer Surveillance System, which is the state’s cancer registry. The paper reports Health Department spokesperson Buddy Ferguson was unable to provide details about the 59th miner diagnosed, including whether or not this case of mesothelioma had resulted in an additional death.
A focus of the five-year study, which is under the direction of the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health, is to determine if there is a relationship between mesothelioma and the dust from taconite mining that is a central part of the Iron Range mine operation. Currently, mesothelioma is known only to be linked to asbestos. Because of the long latency period of the disease, usually between 20 and 50 years, it is uncertain whether the mesothelioma cases could be caused by previous asbestos exposure on the part of affected individuals, or taconite dust, or both.
Minnesota Public Radio reported in June 2007 that the Department of Health had conducted a study in 2003 when it found 17 cases of mesothelioma among Iron Range workers, and determined that 14 of the 17 cases had previous exposure to asbestos as well as taconite dust. Between 2003 and 2007, an additional 35 miners were diagnosed with mesothelioma.
According to WDIO-DT and WIRT-DT, ABC affiliates channels 10 and 13 serving the Northland area, approximately 1,200 current and former Iron Range miners will undergo random respiratory and health screenings, beginning next summer, as part of the study. The station reports that this summer researchers will begin analyzing old health studies, and doctors will examine current asbestos exposure controls.