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Mesothelioma study set to test the effects of taconite

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In an attempt to distinguish the relationship between mesothelioma cancer and taconite dust, a team of researchers from the University of Minnesota are conducting a study that will involve 1,200 taconite and Iron Range workers and 800 of their spouses.

The Iron Range region is located in the northeastern section of Minnesota. Taconite, similar to asbestiform minerals, is a silicate mineral that is found among layers of shale. Some scientists have already agreed that the fibers in shale rock resemble those found in asbestos, one of the primary mesothelioma causes.

The $4.9 million study being supported by Minnesota’s Department of Health is in its beginning stages. Current and former Iron Range taconite workers will soon receive letters inviting them to participate in a screening program. The health screenings are scheduled to begin this fall at the Virginia Regional Medical Center.

To date, 59 Iron Range residents have passed away from mesothelioma. Dave Trach, who worked for LTV Steelmining Company for 38 years, said, “There’s a lot of people that I worked with, that I rode to work with that are gone now, because of this asbestos thing. It’s not an easy thing to go through. It’s a tough way to go.”

The selection of the participants will be based on employment records and will incorporate workers of multiple ages who have a variety of years in the taconite industry in several different locations.

Dr. David Perlman, a University of Minnesota researcher who will be working on the study, said, “This is really the first comprehensive attempt to look at the exposures of the dust from taconite mining and to try to get a real sense of what the health effects of exposure to that dust are.”

Researchers at a recent meeting said having a high level of participation for the study will be critical in determining if there is a direct relationship between Iron Range workers and taconite mining.

This particular respiratory health study is just one of five being conducted by the University of Minnesota to analyze the health of taconite workers. The results of the study will be completely confidential between the patients and their doctors and are expected to be ready by late 2010.

Additional information about mesothelioma may be found through the Mesothelioma Center.

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