Minnesota Taconite Workers Mesothelioma Study

Mesothelioma attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm highlight an extensive study recently conducted by the University of Minnesota that studied the significant ailing of mesothelioma in Iron Range taconite workers. In 2007 it was made public that mesothelioma was striking these miners at twice the average rates, and the new study attempted to find the sources behind this surge.

The northeast region of Minnesota on the banks of Lake Superior is often referred to as the Iron Range. The mining of iron in this 110-mile belt began in the late 19th century and continues to this day, as miners labor extracting taconite from the large iron deposits. Mining is never a healthy occupation, although the surge of mesothelioma occurrence among these workers has left many unanswered questions in the iron range community. This new study, conducted by the U of M’s School of Public Health with a budget of nearly $5 million, is a historic opportunity to get to the bottom of the mysterious health issues in these taconite workers.

The study aims to answer three questions: first, what the relationship is between working in the taconite industry and excess cases of mesothelioma, second, if there are any other diseases associated with this type of work, and lastly, whether or not the spouses of taconite workers are at an increased risk of respiratory diseases.

To answer these questions, the researchers designed five separate study focuses: an occupational exposure assessment, mortality study, incident studies, respiratory health survey of workers and spouses, and environmental study of airborne particles. The five-year study is significant because the taconite mining industry is still very much alive and thriving, adding to the Minnesota economy by the billions every year. Almost half of the residents of Silver Bay are employed at the city’s mining operation center.

The Minnesota Department of Public Health links 115 deaths to mesothelioma on the range in the last 12 years, 43 of those in the past three years. Results from the U of M study found the rate of mesothelioma on the range is indeed 300 times greater than the rest of Minnesota.

One man, Bill Stodola of Hoyt Lakes, is a retired railway repairman, working for 32 years at a mine in town. He is now a member of the steel workers union, and was recently diagnosed with mesothelioma and asbestosis. Stodola’s friend and former co-worker told Kare 11 News that he knows of at least 60 retired workers who currently have mesothelioma, and at least two dozen others who have already died from it.

In their most recent update, the U of M researchers affirmed that they found a confirmed association between time working in the taconite industry and the risk of developing mesothelioma. Their findings showed that for every year worked in the taconite industry, the risk of mesothelioma went up about 3%. For example, Bill Stodola had a 96% increased risk of developing mesothelioma as a result of working in the mines for over 30 years.

This is because taconite, along with other fibers present in the dust of taconite operations, is considered an elongated mineral particle (EMP). Asbestos, the main causative factor in mesothelioma and asbestos, among other diseases, is also an EMP.

Researchers studied the causes of death among Iron Range residents born after 1920, and found higher than average death rates for three diseases: mesothelioma, lung cancer, and heart disease. The high rates of heart disease suggest that there are other health factors at stake among these residents, such as lifestyle. Fortunately, the study did not find an increased risk of lung disease among taconite worker’s spouses. Further research and analysis will continue in the ensuing months
The good news for these residents is that employers and employees are able to take specific safety measures to curtail harmful dust exposure. If these precautions are taken consistently and appropriately, the hazardous effects from the dusts can be eliminated.

Mesothelioma lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm encourage those Iron Range taconite workers to stay up-to-date with physicals and other health tests. EMP-related diseases, if caught early enough, are more easily managed. If you or a loved one contracted mesothelioma or any other taconite-related lung disease from working in taconite mines on the Iron Range, you may be entitled to compensation for past and future medical bills, lost wages, and emotional distress.


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