Researchers Confirm Link Between Time Spent in Taconite Mines, Risk of Mesothelioma

By KBJR News 1

April 12, 2013 Updated Apr 12, 2013 at 10:21 PM CDT

Mountain Iron, MN (NNCNOW.com) - After five years of study, researchers at the University of Minnesota have confirmed a link between the time spent working in taconite mines and an increased risk of mesothelioma.

The findings were presented at a meeting in Mountain Iron Friday.

"Neighbors, friends, family. A lot of us were exposed at one time or another," said Bob Tammen, a former taconite mine worker.

After years of studying what was causing mesothelioma to form in the lining of so many taconite workers' lungs, researchers confirmed a link, saying that for every year spent working in the taconite mines, a person's risk of getting the disease went up by three percent.

"We've been able to understand now how much risk develops over time," said Dr. Jeffrey Mandel, the study's principal investigator.

In better news, researchers said dust from current taconite mines is within safe limits and that they found no correlation between dust from the mines and disease in the outside community, saying air quality throughout the Range was much better than other parts of the state.

"We looked at communities both on the Iron Range, off the Iron Range, nearby," said Dr. John Finnegan, dean of the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health.

But the study isn't done yet, researchers have yet to determine that the particles in the dust at the taconite mines are the reason for the high mesothelioma rates.

"Once we have an understanding of those other exposures, it might be easier to see what role the exposures [the particles] are playing," said Mandel.

It was the beginning of what researchers hope are many answers. answers that to many are personal.

"Some of my fellow miners died gasping for breath. It's a sad story," said Tammen.

The researchers said they plan to present the findings to the state legislature next week.

They also said they plan to announce more findings before the end of the year.

Written for the web by Jennifer Austin.