Study of Taconite Workers and Mesothelioma Still Needs Participants

A study conducted by the University of Minnesota into the causes of the rare cancer mesothelioma still only has about half the necessary participants, according to researchers.

Funded by the State of Minnesota, Iron Range Resources, the Minnesota Department of Health, and the University of Minnesota, the project will look at miners and others who work with taconite, as well as at their spouses. Taconite is a Precambrian sedimentary rock which is iron bearing, with a high level of silica. It is suspected that taconite, like asbestos, can cause respiratory diseases like asbestosis and mesothelioma. The issue is complex, however, because asbestos was commonly used in the taconite mining and processing industries, so the role that taconite itself plays in the formation of these diseases is unclear.

Mesothelioma occurs at twice the average rate in Minnesota’s Iron Range region, where most of the taconite mining takes place.

This is the second study that has been conducted by the University of Minnesota; a 2003 investigation found that 14 of the 17 mesothelioma cases which were studied were likely caused by exposure to asbestos. Since then, an additional 35 cases of the cancer have been diagnosed. The current study is short participants by about 1,000, or half of what they need.

Workers and their spouses are encouraged to respond to the recruitment letters which have been sent out, or to visit the dedicated Web site of the study at taconiteworkers.umn.edu.

Mesothelioma has traditionally been associated only with asbestos exposure. A cancer that affects the linings of the lung, heart and stomach, mesothelioma is diagnosed in approximately 3,000 people in the United States annually. It has a grim prognosis—fewer than 10 percent of mesothelioma patients live longer than two years past diagnosis—and is not usually operable due to the location and nature of the tumor. Some surgeries, as well as chemotherapy and radiation, can be performed to ease discomfort.

The results of the study, which will cost nearly $5 million, are not expected to be released for another three to five years.