Minnesota to Fund Extensive Taconite Mesothelioma Study

Political leaders in the state of Minnesota have reached agreement on funding a $4.9 million study of the relationship between taconite mining and mesothelioma, after a lengthy negotiation over where in the state budget the money would come from. An original plan to withdraw the money from a worker’s compensation fund met with objections from Governor Tim Pawlenty, who claimed it would result in increases in worker’s compensation premiums paid by Minnesota businesses.
After negotiation with state representatives Tom Rukavina (DFL-Florida) and Dave Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm), it was agreed to fund the study through the Worker’s Compensation Assigned Risk Plan Fund, a special fund containing $41 million used to pay claims from businesses with a poor record for safety on the job. Use of that fund will not result in increased premiums, according to the governor’s office.

The study is already underway, spearheaded by a $250,000 contribution from the Iron Range Resources Board. The study is being conducted by the University of Minnesota , in conjunction with the Natural Resources Research Institute, the Pollution Control Agency, and the Minnesota Department of Health. Professor Jeff Mandel of the University of Minnesota is in charge of the study, and he states that it will be completed by 2013. The study will comprehensively address the epidemiology of mesothelioma in taconite miners and workers. The study will also identify what other diseases might be caused by taconite dust, determine any other threats posed by the dust to the community, and make recommendations about reducing the risks associated with taconite exposure. Taconite is a low grade of iron ore found primarily in the Mesabi Iron Range near Hibbing , Minnesota . It was long considered a waste material in Minnesota ’s iron mining industry, but as higher grades of ore were depleted, processes were developed to exploit the vast quantities of taconite. Taconite mining involves a great deal of mineral dust, leading to speculation that the incidence of mesothelioma in taconite miners and workers may be related to the dust. The taconite process was invented in Minnesota and most taconite mines are in Minnesota . At least 58 taconite workers have died of mesothelioma since records have been kept.