This week the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (Meso Foundation) alerted me through a link on their web site to an update in the ongoing mesothelioma study in Minnesota. We have been following this study, which is investigating the high incidence of mesothelioma among Iron Range miners in that state. According to a report in the Duluth News Tribune, the study has identified four new cases of mesothelioma.
The five-year study is being directed by the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Health, and funded by a $4.9 million grant from the Minnestoa state legislature. The new cases bring the total number of former miners diagnosed with mesothelioma to 63.
Mesothelioma has traditionally been linked exclusively to asbestos. However, an investigation into the link between taconite mining – which takes place in what is known as Minnesota’s Iron Range, – began when state health officials noted an unusually high incidence of mesothelioma occurring in taconite mine workers. Mesothelioma occurs at twice the expected rate in the Iron Range.
As part of the study, researchers are screening workers and their immediate families. To date, they have interviewed about 1,000 people, and would like to double that number.
Taconite is an iron-bearing, flint-like rock. Processed taconite pellets are used in the steel making industry. To process taconite, the ore is ground into a fine powder, the iron is separated from the waste rock using strong magnets and the powdered iron concentrate is combined with bentonite clay and limestone and rolled into pellets. The Mesabi Iron Range region of Minnesota is a major taconite production area.