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Study Goals

View the primary goals for each component of the study:


Occupational Exposure Assessment

There are three main goals for the workplace exposure assessment:


  1. Assess the historical exposures of workers to health-relevant components of dust from taconite operations (asbestiform and non-asbestiform elongated mineral particles, respirable dust and respirable silica) in the taconite industry. This involves identifying all sources of primary exposure measurements for the time period 1955 to the present, including information from the mining companies, the Mine Safety and Health Administration, previous studies conducted by the University of Minnesota in the mid-1980s, and studies conducted by the Minnesota Department of Health. This information is then used to reconstruct historical exposures of workers for evaluating the relationship between exposures and health effects.

  2. Assess current exposures of workers to the taconite dust and relevant components in relation to current occupational exposure limits. This will be done by observing tasked performed by workers in various job titles, interviewing supervisors, workers, and union representatives, and identifying areas and jobs for measuring current exposures.

  3. Evaluate existing practices and methods to reduce worker exposures in this industry and, where appropriate, suggest improvements in these methods. The study team will gather the process and the work environment information and evaluate existing exposure control measures through detailed walkthrough surveys. If needed, recommendations will be made for improvement of control measures.


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Mortality (cause of death) Study

The goal of this part of the study is to determine whether employment in the taconite industry, and more specifically exposure to dust from the taconite mining and processing, is related to dying from specific diseases.   This study will compare rates of death within a variety of disease categories in taconite workers to what is expected to characterize the overall health of taconite workers in northeastern Minnesota.


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Incidence Studies

The goal of this part of the study is to determine whether employment in the taconite industry, and more specifically exposure to dust from taconite mining and processing, is related to developing certain diseases, such as mesothelioma, lung cancer or other non-malignant respiratory diseases (NMRD).    The research team will conduct specific studies to evaluate the risk of these diseases in relation to the length of employment, jobs held in the taconite industry and estimated exposure to dust, silica, and elongated mineral particles (EMP). 



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Respiratory Health Survey of Taconite Workers and Spouses

The goals for the Respiratory Health Survey of Taconite Workers and Spouses are:


  1. Among taconite workers, determine the prevalence of non-malignant respiratory effects associated with breathing dust from the taconite industry. This will be done by assessing the quantitative relationship between respiratory symptoms, x-ray, and lung function tests and the corresponding exposures.
  2. Among spouses, determine whether they may be at risk from dust carried home on the clothes of taconite workers by qualitatively assessing exposure to dust from workers' clothing through evaluation of respiratory symptoms, x-ray and lung function tests.
  3. To communicate results from the study tests to the study participant in a timely manner, and to offer recommendations about further tests or follow up that might be needed based on the findings.


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Environmental Study of Airborne Particulates

The goal of the proposed environmental study of airborne particulates is to evaluate the effect of past and present emissions from taconite mining on community air quality across the Mesabi Iron Range.


This approach combines:


  1. Air sampling programs implemented in Iron Range communities across the Mesabi Range and in comparison towns in Northeast Minnesota.
  2. Targeted air sampling conducted around areas of interest at taconite operations.
  3. Size fractionated sample collection techniques in collaboration with the Particle Calibration Laboratory of the University of Minnesota's Department of Mechanical Engineering, Institute of Technology.
  4. Detailed fiber analysis by electron microscopy.
  5. Standard mineralogical and particle characterization techniques.
  6. Collection and analysis of fibers in dated lake sediment.


This research will quantify the difference between airborne particulates in communities surrounding taconite operations and those in comparable towns in Northeast Minnesota. If preliminary results of the taconite workers health studies suggest a link between exposure to dust from taconite operations and disease, then our environmental research will provide the necessary groundwork for a well-designed exposure assessment in the community.



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