Iron Range cancer study passes Legislature

Northshore plant
The Northshore Mining processing plant is just below the town of Silver Bay. The company has been monitoring taconite fibers from the plant for nearly 30 years.
MPR Photo/Stephanie Hemphill

Legislation that authorizes a nearly $5 million study of lung cancer among Iron Range miners is on its way to Gov. Tim Pawlenty's desk.

The Minnesota House gave final approval to the bill today on a vote of 121-1. The measure directs University of Minnesota researchers to identify any link between the taconite industry and cases of mesothelioma.

The bill's author, Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, says the study will also recommend ways that miners can limit their risk of getting the rare cancer.

"So that these new young miners -- because there's a big turnover happening up there -- will have safeguards so that they don't have these materials get in their lungs and jeopardize their lives," said Rukavina.

Iron Range lawmakers recently struck a compromise with the governor to use a fund that will not result in higher fees for all state employers.

Two weeks ago, House Republicans criticized the bill because of the funding source. But Rep. Randy Demmer, R-Hayfield, is pleased with the compromise.

"I appreciate the work that you guys have done to get this done, I think, in a way we can all feel good about it and get this study going," said Demmer. "The bottom line is the study needs to be done. We need to find out what happened there. It's good for the Range. It's good for Minnesota. And it's good for society to understand more about this."

The money will come from a special insurance fund overseen by the Department of Commerce. Gov. Pawlenty has indicated he supports the compromise plan.