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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)



Healthcare Providers


Q. What is the Minnesota Taconite Workers Health Study?

A. The Minnesota Taconite Workers Health Study is a comprehensive look at the health of Minnesota taconite workers through five separate but related study designs. The broad studies categories are:


  • Occupational Exposure Assessment
    In this study past and current exposures of workers to dust from taconite operations will be assessed. Also, current methods to reduce exposure will be evaluated and where appropriate improvement in these methods will be suggested.
  • Mortality (cause of death) Study and Cancer Incidence Studies
    This set of studies will look specifically at the cancer rate, causes of death and the factors associated with the cases of mesothelioma among the taconite workers.
  • Respiratory Health Survey of Taconite Workers and Spouses
    This study involves testing a portion of the current and former taconite workers and their spouses for lung diseases that may be associated with breathing in dust from taconite operations. It involves a study clinic visit during which participants will complete a questionnaire, have a blood sample drawn, a chest X-ray taken and two types of lung function test performed.
  • Environmental Study of Airborne Particulates
    This study will evaluate the effect of past and present emissions from taconite mining on community air quality across the Mesabi Iron Range.

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Q. Who is funding the study?

A. Funding is provided by the State of Minnesota, Iron Range Resources, the Minnesota Department of Health, and the University of Minnesota.

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Q. What do researchers hope to find out from the Respiratory Health Survey of Taconite Workers and Spouses?

A. For taconite workers, the researchers hope to determine the amount of non-cancerous lung disease associated with breathing dust from taconite operations. For spouses, the researchers hope to find out whether they are at risk for lung diseases from dust carried home on the clothes of the taconite worker.

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Q. When will overall study results be available?

A. It will take a long time to gather all the data, organize it and analyze it for results. Complete overall study results could take 3-5 years to produce. The University of Minnesota is committed to frequent communication with the taconite community and will hold community meetings to discuss the progress of the study.

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Q. What will happen to the results of the study?

A. The results of the study will be the sole property of the University of Minnesota and we are committed to fully publishing the results of the study, whatever they may be, in peer-reviewed journals.


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Q. How many people will be tested?

A. For the Respiratory Health Survey of Taconite Workers and Spouses a valid scientific answer will involve testing 1,200 current or former workers and up to 800 spouses of participating workers for a maximum of 2,000 individuals.

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Q. Why can’t everyone who wants to participate in the Respiratory Health Study do so?

A. It is not necessary to test everyone. We can test an appropriate sample of the taconite workers and this representative sample can give accurate results for the entire group. This way take less time and cost less money and the results can be generalized to all taconite workers and spouses.

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Q. What if I am not selected to participate in the Respiratory Health Study but I am concerned about my lung health?

A. You should speak with your current health care provider or primary care physician. You should discuss with your doctor whether the tests being done for the study (chest x-ray and lung function tests) are important for you to have.

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Q. What if I don't have health insurance or a primary care doctor?

A. You should contact your local County Public Health and Human Services office. A county worker can help you to determine which Minnesota Health Care Program(s) you may be eligible for.

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Q. When will participants be recruited and tested for the Respiratory Health Survey of Taconite Workers and Spouses research study?

A. Recruiting for and conducting study clinic visits for the Respiratory Health Survey will begin in August of 2009 and continue until the appropriate number of participants completes the testing.

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Q. When will participants receive the results from the study clinic tests?

A. Individual study results will be mailed to the participant approximately one month after the study clinic visit. If the tests reveal concerns about the participant's health that are serious, one of the licensed physicians conducting the study will contact the individual sooner to explain the results and offer suggestions about further care.

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Q. What are the components of the study?

A. There are 5 main components of the study:

  1. A respiratory health survey of current and former taconite workers and their spouses who may be your patients
  2. A cancer incidence study to assess risk factors associated with the development of mesothelioma and other cancers
  3. A mortality study to examine causes of death in among taconite workers
  4. An occupational exposure assessment looking at the nature of exposures in the taconite mines
  5. An environmental study of airborne particulates to evaluate the emissions from taconite mining

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Q. Who will be eligible for the respiratory health survey? Who will be selected and how?

A. We plan to survey 1200 current and former taconite workers and up to 800 spouses. All current or former workers will be eligible for the survey and participants will be randomly selected from that population. The sample will be stratified by age and geography (east range vs. west range). In order to have a scientifically valid sample participants will be randomly selected and cannot volunteer to participate in the survey.

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Q. What will the respiratory health survey consist of?

A. The survey will consist of a symptom and exposure questionnaire, standard PA chest x-ray, pulmonary function tests consisting of spirometry and DLCO, a venous blood draw, and a brief physical exam. There is no charge for these tests and exam.

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Q. Will participants be notified of their results?

A. Participants who undergo the survey will get a report of their results within a month of their participation. They can also choose to have the results of their tests sent to their primary care physician. The chest x-rays will be read on site and any urgent findings will be communicated to the participant ASAP.

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Q. What kind of referral information will participants be given?

A. Subjects with abnormal findings on their tests will be encouraged to follow-up with their primary care provider. If they do not have a PCP they will be given contact information of providers in their area. If requested by the participant, referral to pulmonary specialists on the Iron Range will be provided. We have no plans to refer any patients outside of the range or to the U of MN unless they specifically request it. Follow-up care will be billed to the patient or their third party payer.

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