Death Toll Rising from Minnesota’s Taconite Mining Area

Tractor mining taconite

An already abnormal mesothelioma death toll in northeast Minnesota continues to climb, according to an updated study at the University of Minnesota examining the nearby taconite mining industry.

The study, which began in 2008 with funding from state lawmakers, confirmed what many suspected for years about the mines in the “Iron Range” area of Minnesota.

Taconite is a lower-grade iron ore that is prevalent in the area. The industry employees approximately 3,000 workers.

The study has focused on the estimated 46,000 people born after 1920 who worked in the industry.  Early results show that 1,681 taconite workers developed some type of lung cancer, including 82 with confirmed cases of mesothelioma, which normally strikes 2,000 to 3,000 people a year in the United States.

Jeffrey Mandel, associate professor at Minnesota and lead researcher in the study, confirmed that the mesothelioma rate is considerably higher than it should be. “We are still doing the analysis to find out how much so,” Mandel said earlier this week during a telephone news conference

The Taconite Workers Health Study stemmed from the belief that the asbestos-like fibers in the dust from the ore processing was causing the mesothelioma and other lung diseases. Plant workers originally suspected the mesothelioma  stemmed from the commercial asbestos, which was found on boilers, furnaces and pipes in the processing plants.

The on-going study at the University will continue to focus on five distinct areas: Occupational Exposure Assessment; Mortality Study; Cancer Incidence Study; Respiratory Health Survey of Workers and Spouses; and Environmental Study of Airborne Particulates.

The University School of Public Health has taken the lead on the $4.9 million project with considerable help from the University Medical School and the Natural Resources Research Institute.

Final results of the study are not expected until late in 2012. The recent mesothelioma death toll was higher than originally reported because additional cases were found by checking records in other states where former miners had moved.


Tim Povtak is an award-winning writer with more than 30 years of reporting national and international news. His most recent experience is in researching and writing about asbestos litigation issues and asbestos-related conditions like mesothelioma. If you have a story idea for Tim, please email him at tpovtak@asbestos.com

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