Study Seeks to Find Link Between Mesothelioma and Taconite Mining

A new study aims to understand the correlation between taconite miners and a high incidence of mesothelioma.

The study, which will last from three to five years and cost $4.8 million, is the culmination of decades’ worth of smaller studies, each of which analyzed some smaller aspect of the taconite workers’ health issues. Now the University of Minnesota’s Taconite Workers Health Study plans to put all the pieces together, especially as regards mesothelioma.

I’m glad that, once and for all, we will finally get to the bottom of this, said state Representative Tom Rukavina, whose father and grandfather both worked in the mines, and who has been advocating for the study.

Over 1,000 mine workers, and 800 of their spouses, will undergo testing to evaluate their overall respiratory health. They will have blood drawn, breathe into machines to analyze their lung function, and have their chests X-rayed. The collection of data is confidential, and researchers are urging all miners to come forward and be tested, in order to get the most comprehensive and thorough results possible. The testing process, they urge, takes only about two hours.

The Minnesota Department of Health had previously conducted a similar study in 2003 that linked taconite miners who had been diagnosed with mesothelioma to commercial asbestos exposure in the mines. In that study 14 of the 17 cases of mesothelioma that were detected were linked directly to contact with asbestos.

Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer. It affects a special membrane within the body, called the mesothelium, which lines the chest and abdominal cavities, as well as surrounding the lungs, heart and stomach. Mesothelioma can take up to 30-40 years to develop within the body and become symptomatic, and its diagnosis is often confounded by the fact that its symptoms are remarkably similar to symptoms of other respiratory diseases.

There is no known cure for mesothelioma, although research is ongoing. Traditional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, surgery and radiation, may be offered to the patient to provide relief from the pain and symptoms, and to stop the cancer’s spread, depending on the stage in which it is diagnosed.