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

rep nolan west mn house

MN rep. says he was 'assaulted' at activist group's public meeting

The Republican said a man grabbed his arms and yanked him from the room.

Screen Shot 2022-01-20 at 12.56.52 PM

What were the 'bizarre things' seen in Minnesota's sky?

The mysterious streaks were not UFOs and they weren't pieces of an asteroid.

icicles, freezing weather, cold weather

Booming noises in the night could be frost quakes

The loud sounds are most likely to happen during the middle of the night.

coronavirus, coronavirus test, covid-19

Free COVID testing site to open in St. Paul for 3 weeks

The federal testing site comes as demand for testing remains high.

Reyel Simmons photo 1 - complaint - crop

MN TikToker accused of faking federal agent life pleads guilty

He told his 10,000 followers he was a Homeland Security agent — authorities say it was a lie.

Wilf

Report: Vikings request second interview with 2 GM candidates

Ryan Poles of the Chiefs and Kwesi Adofo-Mensah of the Browns.

Amaya Battle

Hopkins takes on No. 1 team in the country on ESPNU Friday

The game will feature a pair of top recruits in the Class of 2022.

st. paul federation of educators - teachers

Educators in Minneapolis, St. Paul could strike amid contract negotiations

Teachers and support staff are demanding smaller class sizes, mental health support and better pay.

turtinen two harbors

MN mayor in hot water for hawking $400M underwater hotel plan

The city council called a special meeting to discuss the mayor's public comments.

police lights

Woman in critical condition after attempted murder, authorities say

A 33-year-old woman is in custody and facing possible charges.

Flickr - police lights squad siren - Edward Kimmel

Charges: Driver threw 'large rocks' at police car during highway chase

Authorities say the suspect had used methamphetamine earlier in the day.

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.