Skip to main content

Long-awaited study suggests link between mining and rare lung cancer

  • Author:
  • Updated:
    Original:

For decades, miners who worked on Minnesota's Iron Range have wondered whether the dust they inhaled in the taconite mines had anything to do with the higher rates among them of a rare lung cancer called mesothelioma, as well as other respiratory diseases.

The answer came Monday from University of Minnesota researchers who have studied the health of Iron Range workers for the past six years.

Their conclusion: There is a link between the length of time a miner worked in the taconite industry and his or her risk of getting mesothelioma. Every year spent working in the industry increased the risk of contracting mesothelioma by 3 percent, and Iron Range mine workers contracted the disease at three times the rate of Minnesota's general population, MPR News reports.

Mesothelioma, a rare and deadly cancer of the lining of the lungs, has killed 80 former mine workers on the Iron Range.

What's not quite as clear is the exact cause of the illness – whether it's the tiny needle-shaped fibers called elongate mineral particles, or EMPs, which are found in the dust of crushed taconite iron ore; or whether it's fibers from commercial asbestos which was much more prevalent in the mines decades ago, according to MPR News.

Lawmakers approved nearly $5 million for the study after early findings in 2006 showed an unusually high number of the cancer among miners on the Range, according to WCCO. Researchers presented their final report at a community meeting in Hibbing on Monday afternoon.

Another somewhat surprising discovery is that the taconite workers also had higher than expected death rates from more common types of lung cancer and heart disease, when compared to the state's general population.

The higher heart disease rates could be linked to the inhaling of ultrafine dust particles in mines, principal investigator Jeffrey Mandel said, according to the Star Tribune, but the study was not meant to address that question specifically.

Recommendations

The report makes several recommendations, including one to consider requiring miners to wear protective equipment such as gas masks during certain circumstances.

Another recommends taking steps to encourage employees to reduce their risk factors for heart disease.

“The taconite industry continues to be committed to providing a safe working environment for our employees,” said a spokesman for the mining industries, Craig Pagel of the Iron Mining Association of Minnesota, according to the Star Tribune.

Mandel, the lead researcher, stressed that the mining industry in Minnesota, which employs several thousand people, is safe under most normal operating conditions. “But it is an inherently dusty industry. And it has risks.”

The 205-page final report is available below.

This embed is invalid

Next Up

Screen Shot 2022-08-14 at 10.24.22 AM

Teen driver crashes into parked payloader; 16-year-old passenger dies

The crash happened early Saturday morning in Waconia.

Screen Shot 2022-08-14 at 10.10.50 AM

Barrage of gunfire injures boy in Brooklyn Park; vehicles, apartments damaged

Police say they recovered evidence that more than 40 rounds were fired in the shooting.

Screen Shot 2022-08-14 at 9.15.07 AM

Minnesota Wild back away from thin blue line T-shirt giveaway

The giveaway backfired when word of it reached social media.

Screen Shot 2022-08-13 at 1.26.13 PM

Workers at Minneapolis Trader Joe's become 2nd in nation to unionize

The vote was certified by the National Labor Relations Board Friday.

ATV, all-terrain vehicle

Driver killed in ATV crash in Brooklyn Park

The crash occurred in Monroe Park Friday night.

ambulance

Woman killed by suspected drunk-driver in St. Louis County

The crash occurred on Highway 21 in Embarrass Township Friday night.

Jaelyn Campbell

11-year-old girl missing from Mille Lacs County

Jaelyn Campbell was last seen in Onamia.

Screen Shot 2022-08-12 at 1.58.08 PM

2 ejected, 1 killed in crash that closed southbound I-35

The State Patrol says neither were wearing seat belts.

best buy

Best Buy makes job cuts weeks after warning of soft sales

The Richfield retailer has been dealing with a shift in consumer trends.

Screen Shot 2022-08-12 at 10.26.20 PM

Man makes 'vague comments' about Jewish people, smashes own car with club

It happened at a course that was founded as a Jewish country club 100 years ago.

Screen Shot 2022-08-12 at 9.59.07 PM

4 abandoned puppies found in a bucket in Willmar

The puppies were in good health when they were discovered.

Minneapolis police

Suspect of home invasion, murder in Minneapolis arrested in Wisconsin

There have been 57 deaths reported as homicides in Minneapolis this year.

Related

Study suggests link between 3M chemical and cancer

Scientists focused on a chemical found in drinking water in Ohio and West Virginia, but they also say it exists in smaller amounts in Washington County. But a health official in Minnesota cautions that studies so far on perfluorooctanoic acid, of PFOA, have been inconsistent and the latest research doesn't necessarily mean there is an increased risk of cancer here.