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Scientists Argue Over Iron Range Mesothelioma Study

A highly touted study of the taconite industry’s effect on air quality in the northeastern Minnesota Iron Range has created a rift among scientists, with some arguing that the study’s findings, which have not yet been published, are scientifically flawed and therefore not as helpful as they could be. The specific criticisms center on the study’s methods.

Much of the criticism has come from outside scientists brought in to advise the team from the University of Minnesota-Duluth that conducted the original study. The study was part of a $5 million research project that was ordered as a result of findings that mesothelioma was being diagnosed at an alarming rate in iron ore minors working in the mine. The main criticism comes from a research scientist named Daniel Vallero, who works for the National Exposure Research Laboratory in North Carolina. Vallero, who also works for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has said that there is an “inherent flaw” in the fact that the researchers sampled air from several locations without first creating a plan that would ensure that scientific controls were in place. He also criticized the fact that they did not clearly define their research objectives before they started. Both of these steps are EPA requirements for every research project.

Vallero says, “Collecting information first and then applying the results is akin to shooting an arrow at the wall and then drawing the target around it.” In response to his criticism, the leader of the minerals division at UMD’s Natural Resources Research Institute says that they will go back and edit their description of the work to remove the word “exposure.” George Hudak says that he hopes that will avoid misunderstanding, and that, “It is a characterization study, not an exposure study.”

The researchers have previously presented on their findings, saying that the air in the Iron Range has low concentrations of mineral dust and some longer particles that are a cause of concern. Hudak also points out that the reason why the study was begun before the research blueprint was complete was because the scientists wanted to act quickly to gather evidence after one of the operations being researched was temporarily shuttered.

While scientists argue over research protocol, residents in the Iron Range communities continue to express conn for their own safety and health, particularly as more and ore former miners are being diagnosed with lung scarring, mesothelioma and other concerning illnesses.

Terri Oppenheimer

Terri Oppenheimer is an experienced blog writer, editor, and proofreader. She graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in English. She specializes in providing content for websites and finds tremendous enjoyment in the things she learns while doing her research. Her specific areas of expertise include health, medical research, and law.

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