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Finding the link between taconite and mesothelioma

People who live in the Iron Range of Minnesota may be disheartened by recent research into why so many of them are dying from mesothelioma. The study has confirmed that residents in the area are at a much higher risk of developing the fatal disease, but so far, they are unable to confirm why this is. They do know that mesothelioma is only caused by exposure to certain airborne fibers such asbestos. Finding this link in the Iron Range, therefore, is critical.

The researchers are primarily focused on this geographic area because residents in that part of the country have a 300 percent higher rate of developing mesothelioma than the general population. With the recent research, they have also confirmed that Iron Rangers have 20 percent more cases of lung cancer and over 10 percent more heart disease than others in Minnesota.

The cause for concern here is that while they can see the increase, they are having difficulty linking the disease to its source. Some believe that the mesothelioma is caused by the exposure to dangerous fibers when mining and processing minerals into taconite. Others wonder if workers in the Iron Range were commonly working with asbestos-containing molds or insulation in the taconite plants.

Because exposure to the deadly materials happened decades ago, though, determining the cause is proving to be difficult for researchers. They are studying 46,000 people who worked in producing taconite in the Iron Range, and looking at their lifestyles for possible links. While their research has finished, answers are not yet available. Some researchers fear that they will never determine a link between mesothelioma and the taconite iron ore industry. If they can confirm a point of exposure, however, those affected by the deadly disease in the Iron Range may finally get the answers they are looking for.

Source: Duluth News Tribune, "Links between mesothelioma, taconite mining hard to find," John Myers, May 31, 2012

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