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Taconite study moves to Silver Bay

The ongoing University of Minnesota health study of current and former taconite industry workers has moved from Virginia to Silver Bay to attract more taconite workers from the eastern Iron Range.

The study was 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 steelworkers die from a rare lung disease compared to the general public.

Diana Harvey of the university's School of Public Health said the study needs 200 more participants and she hopes those in the Silver Bay area will fill out the field.

There will be an informational meeting beginning at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at the community center and testing will begin in mid-September.

Because the study is random, only those who receive a letter will brought into the Bay Area Health Center.

Harvey said workers closer to Silver Bay expressed interest in the study but found the distance to Virginia daunting.

"The drive was a barrier," she said.

John Finnegan Jr., dean of the school, said officials involved in the $4.9 million study want taconite workers from across a broader geographic area to be tested.

"While we are pleased with the response, for the results to be representative, it is important for the sample to include more participants in the working age group from the east side of the Iron Range," Finnegan said in a letter to people involved in the study.

Workers at the Northshore Mining plant will be reminded to participate when asked, Cliffs Natural Resources spokeswoman Maureen Talarico said. She said results of the study will be "interesting to see" and that Cliffs supports the study as a way to toward "understanding exposures in the industry."

State health data shows that an unusually high number of northern Minnesota residents are dying from meso-thelioma, a rare lung disease associated with exposure to asbestos. The health testing also is looking for other lung ailments. Health officials also are poring over death and health records to see if other workers might have succumbed to lung disease.

Most of the cases have been found on the west side of the Iron Range, but Finnegan said it's "important for the sample to include more participants in the working age group from the east side."

Participation is free but by invitation only, meaning people can't volunteer until contacted, to keep it a random sample. The testing involves a medical office visit for a lung capacity test, chest X-ray, blood sample and medical history. The results are confidential.

Study officials hope to finish the tests this fall with preliminary conclusions by 2011, although it could be 2015 before a full report is available.

Find out more

Major study moves

- Testing at the Bay Area Health Center, 50 Outer Circle in Silver Bay, will run Sept. 20 to Oct. 15. A public informational meeting begins at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Silver Bay Recreation Building at 109 Outer Drive to encourage people who receive an invitation to participate.