About 70 miners and retired mine workers crowded into a meeting room in Eveleth on Minnesota's Iron Range on Thursday. They were there to hear about a major study of lung health in taconite workers, which is just getting underway.
Northeastern Minnesota has twice the expected rate of mesothelioma, a rare, fatal disease that usually attacks the lining of the lung. At least 58 people have been diagnosed with the disease so far.
An early study by the Minnesota Department of Health concluded that the illness was caused by exposure to "commercial" asbestos --- the asbestos used in many industries as an insulation and fire safety material.
But after the Health Department delayed release of new data on mesothelioma deaths, the Minnesota Legislature directed the University of Minnesota to do a more comprehensive study.
The meeting was one of several being held on the Range to explain the lung health survey that will take place over the next two years.
The U's School of Public Health needs to find 1,200 mine workers and 800 spouses to participate. They'll receive physical checkups, breathing tests, x-rays, and blood work to identify any health problems.
This study is looking for problems other than cancer. Many retired miners complain of shortness of breath and other difficulties.
The information gained from this survey will be combined with other studies to try to determine whether the asbestos might be in the taconite ore itself.
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