The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota, who investigated why taconite miners in Minnesota’s Iron Range had higher than expected rates of mesothelioma compared with the general population. While researchers confirmed that asbestos fibers were linked to the increase in disease, they were unable to pinpoint whether specific fibers were more likely to cause the condition.
The study included short EMPs (elongate mineral particles) found in crushed taconite dust and longer EMPs found in commercial asbestos. The problem for researchers, however, is that workers who were exposed to one type of fiber tended to be exposed to both, making it impossible to differentiate the cause of the mesothelioma. Further complicating matters was that many of the miners were also either current or former smokers.
“Workers with above-average exposure to dust containing EMPs were twice as likely to develop mesothelioma as workers with below-average exposures,” researchers wrote.
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“The length of time people worked in the industry was linked to higher levels of mesothelioma but not lung cancer,” researchers wrote.
Mesothelioma is a fatal lung disease linked to asbestos exposure. It has a latency period that can last decades and no cure. Workers who are exposed to asbestos could be exposed through a variety of sources in the course of their career. Lawsuits have been filed against employers, manufacturers and other companies linked to the asbestos industry, alleging workers were not properly protected from asbestos, nor were they warned about the risks of exposure.