Pawlenty vows to find answers to Iron Range cancer deaths

Gov. Tim Pawlenty is trying to convince Iron Range legislators that he too wants to understand the cause of cancer deaths of miners.

Pawlenty sent a letter on Thursday to 10 northeastern Minnesota lawmakers, pledging his commitment to addressing their concerns.

The governor directed the state Health Department to work with the University of Minnesota on three studies related to the rare cancer known as mesothelioma.

Legislators held hearings two weeks ago to criticize state health officials for withholding data on the cancer deaths of 35 miners.

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Pawlenty's spokesman, Brian McClung, says the governor wants to know the cause of the deaths as well as rebuild trust in the Health Department.

"He does agree that having the Department of Health work with the University of Minnesota will be a good way to ensure that everybody accepts the results of these studies," he said. "And we're hopeful that these can focus us on the causes and try to find ways to makes sure we take care of the mining-related health concerns that we've seen over the years."

McClung says other government agencies are looking into ways to better protect the health of iron ore miners.

At least one Iron Range lawmaker says the promised study of mining-related health issues won't come soon enough.

Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook says he doesn't want to wait until the 2008 session to approve funding for the three planned studies.

Bakk says he would prefer to fund the studies sooner in a special session. He says there's too much uncertainty among miners. "It's more than just the people that work there," he said. "They come home with their dirty, dusty clothes, and the rest of the family is exposed to them. People need to know if there are some health related risks there, and we don't know the answer to that."

Bakk says he no longer has confidence in the Department of Health, after Commissioner Dianne Mandernach withheld data on the mesothelioma deaths of 35 miners.