Lung study explained in Silver BayAbout a dozen people showed up for an informational meeting Wednesday on a lung disease study that begins Sept. 20 in Silver Bay as a continuation of a University of Minnesota study that began in Virginia last year.
About a dozen people showed up for an informational meeting Wednesday on a lung disease study that begins Sept. 20 in Silver Bay as a continuation of a University of Minnesota study that began in Virginia last year. It tests current and former taconite workers for lung disease in an effort to find out if working at mines or in processing facilities exposed workers to air particles.
Dr. Jeff Mandel said the study looks at exposure rates to asbestos dust and would likely not find mesothelioma, the rare cancer, in anyone who is tested. He hopes more people participate in the study to make results more valid.
“What if we find something that incriminates the mine,” he offered as a typical question he’s faced since studies began on the Iron Range. He said knowing about the problems helps taconite companies and it gives them something to manage. “It’s not going to cause the industry to rollover and die.”
He said participants shouldn’t be scared of taking the test, because if they do find something, there’s a possibility they can fix it before it becomes a major problem.
Only those who receive a letter inviting them to come to the Bay Area Health Center will be part of the random study. Mandel said 300 to 400 letters were sent out in the Silver Bay area. The study got names of current and former employees from electronic lists given to them from the 1980s and early 1990s. Lists from before that time period were not available.
Karl Jevning, a retired Reserve Mining employee in the audience, said things have changed over the years to make what is now Northshore Mining safer.
“I think it’s very necessary to study,” said Fran Jevning, Karl’s wife. “There are too many rumors running around.”
Dave Gustafson, another retired Reserve employee, referred to health concerns as a “black cloud” hovering over the plant for many years and that studies from the past never seemed to be completed.
“There’s still no real rash amount,” he said in reference to mesothelioma cases.
The ongoing University of Minnesota health study of current and former taconite industry workers moved from Virginia to Silver Bay to attract more taconite workers from the eastern Iron Range. The study had been based out of Virginia Regional Medical Center for the past year and has tested nearly 1,500 industry workers, former employees and their spouses in an effort to find out why more steel and taconite workers die from a rare lung disease compared to the general public. The study includes spouses because they can be exposed to dust brought home on workers clothes.
Mandel wasn’t sure how many people would be tested in Silver Bay, but suggested between 300 to 400 letters had been sent out. Other former or current Silver Bay workers have been tested in Virginia, which reduced the number of people from Silver Bay participating because of the distance to the testing facility.
“So far testing has gone well,” said Dr. David Perlman, a pulmonary specialist working on the study. “The tests are very standard.”
Pete Melnotte, who retired in 2006 from the plant in Silver Bay, said the tests were not invasive and very efficient. “They run you right through,” he said.
Workers close to Silver Bay have expressed interest in the study but found the distance to Virginia daunting.
Mandel said tests for workers at the taconite operations at the Canadian National Railway docks in Two Harbors and Duluth are not being done because they want to look at the group with the highest risk, which would be those working at a plant like the one in Silver Bay. If they find cases there, he said they could possibly move to other workers in the region.