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Cancer study a go

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota legislators gave final approval to studying a rare cancer found on the Iron Range when the House voted 121-1 in favor of a $4.9 million expenditure.

Mesothelioma is believed to have resulted in 58 northeastern Minnesota deaths, but scientists are not sure about the cause.

"This study is a commitment to those that work in the mines on the Iron Range and for all workers across the state -- if something where you work is making you sick, we are going to get to the bottom of it," said bill sponsor Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia.

"We don't know how and why this cancer is killing our miners and those are questions we have to answer as fast as possible. That's what this study is going to do," he added.

The bill heads to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who says he will sign it.

Rukavina reminded representatives on Thursday that two years ago this month the then-state health commissioner hid 37 mesothelioma deaths.

"We won't drop the ball this time," Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said.

McNamara wondered whether mine owners would pay to make things right. Rukavina said mines could be sued and they may be forced to pay to make changes so future miners are not affected.

"One way or another, I believe the mining companies are going to have to pay for this," Rukavina said.

Beyond just finding the cause of the cancer, the five-year University of Minnesota-led study also is supposed to find ways to avoid the problem in the future, Rukavina added.

"The bill makes sure the University of Minnesota can move forward with an unbiased study without any pressure or involvement from the mining companies," Rukavina said.

Iron Rangers do not know if the cancer is caused by something in the iron ore or in the way it is processed or some other factor.

"We have a huge turnover of workers going on in our mines, so we have to figure out the best way these young people can shield themselves from this," Rukavina said.

"Mine workers and their families need and deserve answers about why this terrible disease has been diagnosed as much as it has in the area," said House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm. "If something where you work is making you sick, you have a right to know. This study is going to provide those answers."

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.