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Did taconite mining cause high rates of mesothelioma in miners?

Mining has always been a dangerous activity, whether underground or open-pit, workers are exposed to a large number of dangers, from cave-ins and collapses, to being crushed by heavy machinery or contracting black lung or other mining related respiratory disease.

Asbestos, being a naturally occurring mineral, is sometimes associated with products that are mined, as the case with vermiculite and the problems that has caused in the mining town of Helen, Montana. Another mining center in the United States, Minnesota's Iron Range has also shown a disproportionate number of occurrences of mesothelioma, a disease that often occurs after exposure to asbestos dust.

A scientific study was commissioned to examine approximately 48,000 people who worked in the taconite mining industry over the last 90 years. Taconite is mined and later processed to concentrate the percentage of iron ore present and is then used in steel making.

The researchers have confirmed that people on the Iron Range have a 300 percent higher rate of mesothelioma than the rest of the population of Minnesota. According to preliminary finding released last year, there is a 20 percent greater incidence of lung cancer and 11 percent more heart disease on the Iron Range.

The study, which began in 2008, was designed to see if there was a linkage between mining and the high levels of mesothelioma, lung cancer and other diseases. The study looked at current practices within the taconite mining industry, to see if airborne particulates in the mines, plants or cities were present.

Researchers have cautioned that the study may not provide definitive answerers to any of the questions. The final report is expected to be released on April 12.

Source: Duluth News Tribune, "Minnesota taconite health report due in April," John Myers, March 13, 2013

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