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Minnesota House gives OK for study of rare cancer

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 caused 58 northeastern Minnesota deaths, but scientists want to make certain.

"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."

The bill heads to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who says he will sign it. Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, 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.

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.

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.

Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or