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Minnesota Iron Workers Have Higher Incidence of Mesothelioma

The University of Minnesota School of Public Health has released their final report on the health status of taconite workers in the state. The project was undertaken as part of the Lung Health Partnership, and represented a six-year study following the discovery that an unusual number of cases of mesothelioma had appeared in Minnesota taconite workers. As a result the group undertook the mission of determining the answer to a few important questions: whether working in the taconite industry was associated with mesothelioma and other respiratory diseases, what factor in the taconite operations would be associated with mesothelioma, and whether the risk for workers’ spouses was the same as or greater as a result of their partners working in the industry. The study identified specific links to mesothelioma that originated with working in the industry, though the role of the elongate mineral particles in the mines remains unclear.

The study followed 68,000 miners who worked at the Mesabi Iron Range. What they found was that the exposure came from either mining dust or commercial asbestos, and that those who had above-average exposures were twice as likely to develop the rare form of cancer than was the case with their coworkers who had lower exposure levels. The study also determined that for each year that the workers worked in the mine there was a three percent increase in their risk. Unlike other spouses, the miner’s spouses seemed to show no greater risk for lung scarring than is seen in the general public.

According to the published study, “This study provides evidence that taconite workers may be at increased risk for mortality overall and more specifically from lung cancer, mesothelioma, and cardiovascular disease. Occupational exposures during taconite mining operations may be associated with these increased risks, but non-occupational exposures may also be important contributors. Additional investigation of the cardiovascular disease findings appears warranted and risk factor reduction strategies for cardiovascular diseases should be considered further.” It goes on to say, “the results from this case-control study suggested an association between duration of employment in the taconite industry and risk of mesothelioma. There was also an association with mesothelioma and exposure to cumulative EMPs, as measured by the NIOSH 7400 method. Due to high correlations between the different EMP definitions, the specific details of size and type of EMP exposure (asbestiform, non-asbestiform) could not be further ascertained. The potential for residual effects from exposure to commercial asbestos in the taconite industry or elsewhere could not be entirely ruled out.”

Terri Oppenheimer

Terri Oppenheimer is an independent writer, editor and proofreader. She graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in English. Her dreams of a writing career were diverted by a need to pay her bills. She spent a few years providing copy for a major retailer, then landed a lucrative career in advertising sales. With college bills for all three of her kids paid, she left corporate America for a return to her original goal of writing. She specializes in providing content for websites and finds tremendous enjoyment in the things she learns while doing her research. Her specific areas of interest include health and fitness, medical research, and the law.

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