House committees probe Iron Range cancer rates

State lawmakers are trying to better understand the rare form of lung cancer called mesothelioma.

Two House committees held a joint meeting Tuesday to hear testimony on the disease. Health officials have linked mesothelioma to the deaths of dozens of miners. They've also found men living in the state's Iron Range region have a high rate of the cancer.

Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, says the state needs more data. Clark included a provision in the omnibus public health bill that requires the Department of Health to track the occupational history of people with cancer.

"We don't know that right now," she said. "We don't track that in Minnesota. We don't track it very well in this whole country. There are other countries that do a very careful job of that. When they have someone who has a specific illness, they go back and take occupational histories. It doesn't have to just be cancer, but in this case I'm just focusing on one part of that puzzle right now.

Questions remain about whether the cancer is linked to taconite dust. Clark wants lawmakers to travel to the Iron Range later this year to talk to people who've been affected by the disease.