More On Minnesota’s Iron Range Miners

Last August, you may recall a post about the taconite miners of Minnesota’s Iron Range (see “The Iron Range Miners” posted 13 August), who suffer from mesothelioma at rates that are anywhere from two to four times the statewide average. Last week, the Minnesota State Health Department released a report on the background of 58 taconite miners who currently suffer from this once nearly unknown form of cancer.
The data contained in the report will be of great help to medical and other scientific researchers who are in the process of preparing studies on the miners in question. Unfortunately, the report lacks some specific information, such as exactly what part of the mine each victim worked in or to which particular form of asbestos fibers or other substances the miners may have been exposed. A small part of the puzzle lay in the fact that three of the miners also worked at a factory in the area where asbestos ceiling tiles were manufactured. However, this fails to explain the presence of the disease in the remaining 55. What is significant is that over 50% of the victims were employed in the taconite mining industry less than five years.

Although mesothelioma has been known to strike victims after relatively short exposure (as was the case for an EMT who was among the first responders to the collapse of the World Trade Center in September of 2001 [see “9/11–The Worst Is Yet To Come” posted 11 September]), it usually takes several decades to manifest symptoms. It has been determined, however, that most of the victims were employed by only two corporations: U.S. Steel and Picklands Mather. Further studies will be dependent on funding; it is estimated that the cost of the research may run as much as $5 million over the next five years. State senator Tom Bakk, whose district encompasses the affected area, is adamant about funding the study, and expects Governor Tim Pawlenty to include such funding in his next budget request to the Minnesota legislature. Bakk, who is the head of the Senate Tax Committee, was quoted as saying, “If it costs $2 million, if it costs $10 million, if it costs the state $30 million – I don’t care.”