A recent report reveals four new cases of mesothelioma among workers engaged in taconite mining in Minnesota’s Iron Range. The report will add to the findings of a mesothelioma study being conducted by the University of Minnesota.
The research, funded by the State of Minnesota, aims to establish the relationship between the taconite industry and increasing numbers of mesothelioma cases among its workers. The study also intends to determine other respiratory and non-respiratory diseases associated with work done in the taconite industry. One important question that crops up here is whether spouses of taconite workers are also at risk.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, the new cases have brought the total number of taconite miners with this rare form of cancer to 63. It is an established fact that the disease is caused by asbestos exposure, but the Health Department is trying to find out if there exists a link between the disease and mineral fibers of the Iron Range taconite.
The process of taconite mining involves crushing the taconite to a powdered form. The equipments used in the process such as furnaces, compressors, etc are often contaminated by asbestos. This industrial process can emit mineral fibers which become lodged in the respiratory system. It’s actually hard for workers to avoid inhalation of asbestos in the tight quarters in which they work, which raises some serious health concerns about the possible development of mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer.
The University of Minnesota study compares miners who contracted mesothelioma to those who did not. It also involves comparing exposure to asbestos with exposure to taconite, to determine if taconite contributes to mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases.
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer, of which the principal cause is exposure to asbestos. It is very difficult to detect in its initial stages and can take up to 40 years to develop. In the U.S., every year, around 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are reported. Still others are diagnosed with serious ailments caused by asbestos exposure, such as asbestosis, lung cancer and pleural plaques.