On Friday in Mountain Iron, Minnesota, in the heart of the state’s Iron Range, University of Minnesota researchers 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.”

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