A 2014 study by the University of Minnesota School of Public Health found that Minnesota taconite miners are at increased risk for developing mesothelioma, a malignant cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. As FindLaw explains, mesothelioma is an incurable cancer caused by microscopic asbestos fibers building up in the linings of a worker’s lungs, heart and/or abdomen after he or she breathes them in.
While researchers are unsure which asbestos fiber(s) is or are causing the increased mesothelioma risk for taconite miners, a new study by the University of Minnesota School of Public Health has determined that the non-asbestiform elongate mineral particles commonly found in taconite likely are not the culprits. Unlike other kinds of asbestos fibers, EMPs do not tend to flake off and therefore do not easily disperse into the air that miners breathe. However, taconite mining often results in the asbestos being crushed, and the concern is that these crushed EMPs could be released into the air.
One of the grimmest aspects of mesothelioma is that it usually takes years, sometimes decades, for its symptoms to appear. Diagnoses 20-50 years after initial asbestos exposure are not at all uncommon. By then, the cancer may well have spread throughout the victim’s body and his or her prognosis is very poor.
While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has established specific worker protection standards for construction workers and shipbuilders, there are no specific standards for miners. Thousands of mesothelioma lawsuits for personal injury and/or wrongful death have been filed during the past 50 years, many of them by miners and/or their families.
Knowing the limited lifespan that many mesothelioma patients face, most states fast-track these lawsuits. In addition, most states extend the time (statute of limitations) during which plaintiffs can file such lawsuits to a certain number of years after the disease was diagnosed rather than the date on which the illness was first contracted.