PRESS  RELEASE:    Embargoed  until  5:00  p.m.

,  April  12,  2013    

U  of  M  Taconite  Workers  Health  Study  research  team   presents  update  on  findings    
 
  Contact:   Justin  Paquette,  Academic  Health  Center,  (612)  718-­‐6892,  jpaquett@umn.edu   Kris  Stouffer,  School  of  Public  Health,  (612)  306-­‐7955,  stouffer@umn.edu   Laurel  Herold,  Academic  Health  Center,  (218)  341-­‐7270,  hero0045@umn.edu    
MINNEAPOLIS  /  ST.  PAUL  (April  12,  2013)  –  University  of  Minnesota  researchers  have  confirmed   an  association  between  time  spent  working  in  the  taconite  industry  and  an  increased  risk  of   contracting  mesothelioma,  an  association  evident  across  Minnesota’s  Iron  Range.  Researchers  also   found  that  air  quality  in  communities  surrounding  taconite  mines  is  cleaner  in  terms  of  particulates   than  air  found  in  Minneapolis.       They’ve  also  found  that  current  occupational  exposure  to  dust  from  taconite  operations  is  generally   within  safe  exposure  limits.     The  updated  results  come  as  the  Taconite  Workers  Health  Study,  a  multi-­‐pronged  research  initiative   funded  by  the  state  of  Minnesota,  winds  down  later  this  year.  The  Minnesota  Legislature   commissioned  the  $4.9  million  project  in  2008,  after  data  from  the  Minnesota  Cancer  Registry   revealed  an  apparent  excess  of  cases  of  mesothelioma  in  Iron  Range  workers.  The  mesothelioma   deaths  only  occurred  in  men  working  in  the  taconite  industry.     The  University  of  Minnesota  School  of  Public  Health  partnered  with  the  Medical  School  and  the   Natural  Resources  Research  Institute  at  the  University  of  Minnesota  Duluth  on  the  project.           “This  is  a  landmark  study  for  Minnesota  and  the  Iron  Range,”  said  John  Finnegan,  Ph.D.,  dean  of  the   School  of  Public  Health.  “Our  goal  was  to  begin  to  answer  questions  around  how  mining  and   taconite  processing  have  impacted  the  health  of  Minnesotans.  These  studies  have  started  to  uncover   those  answers.”       An  examination  of  increased  rates  of  mesothelioma     Mesothelioma,  a  fatal  cancer  of  the  lining  of  the  lung,  is  mainly  caused  by  prolonged  exposure  to   asbestos  particles  in  the  air,  linking  the  disease  to  occupations  that  used  the  material  in  the  past.       The  Minnesota  Department  of  Health  originally  established  a  relationship  between  working  in  the   iron  mining  industry  and  an  increased  risk  for  mesothelioma  in  the  1990’s/early  2000’s.  Past   University  of  Minnesota  research  has  also  reported  the  risk  for  mesothelioma  in  iron  mining   workers  to  be  around  three  times  higher  than  in  Minnesotans  not  working  in  the  industry.     As  a  result,  University  of  Minnesota  researchers  have  looked  for  explanations  for  the  increase  and   found  that  for  every  year  worked,  the  risk  for  mesothelioma  went  up  around  three  percent.   Researchers  have  wanted  to  determine  whether  or  not  cumulative  exposure  to  fiber  types  within  

the  family  of  elongated  mineral  particles  (EMPs)  present  in  the  dust  from  taconite  operations  could   account  for  this  increase.  The  types  of  EMPs  involved  in  iron  ore  mining  have  not  been  previously   linked  to  increased  mesothelioma  risk.  As  these  exposures  were  examined,  researchers  did  identify   a  potential  link  between  cumulative  exposure  to  workplace  EMPs  and  mesothelioma  in  taconite   workers.  However,  the  link  is  not  felt  to  be  certain.       As  a  result,  the  researchers  cannot  say  with  assuredness  that  dust  from  taconite  operations  causes   mesothelioma.    Further  data  analysis  in  this  area  will  continue  in  the  coming  months.     “One  important  finding  of  the  work  to  date  is  that  the  risk  of  contracting  mesothelioma  is  higher   across  the  entirety  of  the  Range  among  people  who  worked  longer  in  the  industry,  said  Jeff  Mandel,   M.D.,  M.P.H.,  a  School  of  Public  Health  environmental  health  expert  and  principal  investigator  of  the   study.    “Unfortunately,  there  is  minimal  information  on  exposure  to  other  sources  of  asbestos,  a   specific  type  of  EMP  known  to  cause  mesothelioma,  which  they  may  have  experienced  outside  of   iron  ore  processing.  It  is  something  that  we  want  to  continue  to  look  at,  if  at  all  possible.”         Taconite  worker  mortality       In  addition  to  mesothelioma,  within  the  Taconite  Workers  Health  Study  researchers  researchers   assessed  causes  of  death  among  people  born  after  1920  who  spent  time  in  the  iron  mining  industry   in  Minnesota.  This  study  includes  people  working  in  the  taconite  industry  and  the  former  hematite   industry.         The  causes  of  death  in  taconite  workers  (when  compared  to  Minnesota  averages)  were  higher  than   expected  for  three  important  diseases:  mesothelioma,  lung  cancer  and  heart  disease.  Causes  of   deaths  from  all  three  were  higher  than  expected  across  the  Iron  Range  and  not  in  one  particular   location.       Although  working  in  the  taconite  industry  increases  a  person’s  lifetime  risk  of  mesothelioma,  the   increase  equates  to  a  small  risk  of  actually  developing  the  disease.  Mesothelioma  is  still  a  very  rare   disease.     Because  taconite  workers  have  higher  rates  of  death  than  their  counterparts  for  all  types  of  cancer   combined  and  heart  disease,  it  also  appears  there  are  other  health  considerations  impacting  people   living  on  the  Iron  Range  and  lifestyle  appears  to  be  an  important  factor.     Air  quality  assessment       University  researchers  can  also  confirm  that  air  quality  in  communities  surrounding  the  mines  is   better  than  most  parts  of  Minnesota  in  terms  of  particulates  in  the  air.  Also,  researchers  found  that   occupational  exposures  to  dust  from  taconite  operations  are,  generally,  within  safe  limits.  In   addition,  spouses  of  taconite  industry  workers  are  also  at  no  higher  risk  of  contracting  dust-­‐related   lung  diseases  than  Minnesota’s  broader  general  public.     “We’re  hopeful  that  the  results  to  date  will  allay  fears  that  taconite  dust  has  generated  broad  harm   to  the  general  public,”  said  Mandel.  “When  employers  and  employees  both  take  the  appropriate   safety  precautions  to  curtail  dust  exposures,  potentially  harmful  effects  from  the  dusts  can  be   eliminated.         To  measure  air  quality  and  potential  exposure  to  community  residents  to  dust  generated  in  the  

mining  processing,  researchers  from  the  National  Resources  Research  Institute  at  the  University  of   Minnesota  Duluth  collected  and  looked  at  air  samples  from  across  the  Iron  Range.  This  work   confirmed,  even  though  the  East  and  West  sides  of  the  range  have  different  geologic  characteristics,   that  there  are  very  low  concentrations  of  EMPs  in  the  air  among  these  communities.         Challenges  and  study  obstacles     Project  researchers  did  encounter  obstacles  in  this  work,  as  gathering  exposure  data  from  within   the  Taconite  industry  was  difficult  to  secure  the  further  back  they  tried  to  go.  They  were  also  unable   to  fully  document  potential  exposure  to  asbestos  products  that  were  used  in  the  industry.  Many   processing  facilities  were  constructed  and  maintained  in  a  time  period  when  asbestos  was  a   common  building  and  construction  material,  but  exposures  to  workers  were  not  regulated  or   recorded.     As  part  of  their  annual  legislative  report  on  the  Taconite  Workers  Health  Study,  University   researchers  will  recommend  additional  considerations  should  future  investigations  be  undertaken.       About  the  Taconite  Workers  Health  Study     The  overall  objective  of  the  Minnesota  Taconite  Worker  Health  Study  was  to  determine  whether   dust-­‐related  lung  disease,  including  mesothelioma,  lung  cancer  and  non-­‐malignant  respiratory   disease,  might  be  related  to  working  in  the  taconite  industry.     The  study  had  five  main  components,  including  1)  an  occupational  exposure  assessment,  2)  a   mortality  (cause  of  death)  study,  3)  cancer  incidence  studies  of  mesothelioma  and  lung  cancer,  4)  a   respiratory  health  survey  of  taconite  workers  and  spouses,  assessing  non-­‐cancerous  respiratory   disease  and  5)  an  environmental  study  of  airborne  particulates.         Each  study  component  has  utilized  an  external  peer-­‐review  process  with  science  advisory  boards   that  have  been  involved  in  the  projects  since  the  beginning  and  each  of  the  study's  five  components   provide  a  perspective  that’s  important  to  the  interpretation  of  the  overall  health  assessment   process.    

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