Minnesota is a resource-rich state, and its mining industry provides the rest of the nation with several essential minerals – including taconite and other types of iron ore. Unfortunately, workers in the taconite industry suffer from the deadly disease known as mesothelioma at a much higher rate than workers in other industries. Some key studies shed light into the possible link between taconite mining and mesothelioma.
The University of Minnesota’s study
Taconite is a type of iron-bearing ore that is present in abundance in Minnesota’s Iron Range. In 2008, after it became apparent that health care workers were diagnosing taconite workers with mesothelioma at alarming rates, the state government of Minnesota offered the University of Minnesota a $4.9 million research grant to study the relation between taconite mining and mesothelioma.
As a result of this study, university staff have published several articles in key publications concerning the link between taconite mining and mesothelioma.
We also discussed this in an earlier post on mesothelioma in the Arrowhead region.
The results of the study
In one article based on the results of the University’s research, researchers revealed that 16.8% of the group of taconite workers who participated in the study had some form of obstruction, and another 4.5% had restriction of the lungs (a condition indicative of mesothelioma and other diseases caused by inhalation of harmful mineral particles).
The study also revealed a relation between body mass index (BMI) and pulmonary restriction. According to the article, the higher a worker’s BMI was, the more likely it was that they would suffer restriction.
The cause of this alarming number of mesothelioma cases among taconite workers and mesothelioma is the nature of taconite itself. While mesothelioma is most often the result of exposure to asbestos fibers, taconite fibers are very similar in size and structure to asbestos fibers, and the effects of breathing them in are very similar to asbestos exposure – including increased likelihood of developing mesothelioma.
The Conwed plant in particular saw a percentage of workers diagnosed with mesothelioma far greater than the national average. In fact, Carlton County has the highest rate of mesothelioma statewide, likely due to the exposure to asbestos and taconite in Conwed’s operations.
If you are in an environment where you are breathing in taconite fibers over an extended period of time, the fibers can work their way into your mesothelium – the membrane that coats your internal organs. With time, the irritation and inflammation that these fibers cause can develop into the aggressive and deadly form of cancer called mesothelioma.
Taconite mines owe a duty of care to their workers to monitor the air to ensure that an unsafe level of taconite fibers is not present in the dust that their mining operations cause. Sadly, many companies neglect to make thorough and accurate measurements, and the workers pay the ultimate cost as a result.