Two Taconite Minnesota Mining Operations Could Be Held Accountable for Exceeding Asbestos Exposure Limits

MSHA Standards Designed to Protect Miners from Asbestos

Minnesota — April 23, 2008 — Two taconite Minnesota mining operations in the Iron Range could be in trouble for allowing dangerous levels of airborne asbestos, jeopardizing the health of miners who work there. The U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) recently revised exposure limits on asbestos for miners. The new rules go into effect on April 29th. Currently, the two mining operations do not meet the new MSHA standards. The asbestos limit under the new regulations is a fraction of the amount of asbestos exposure that is currently being experienced at the two operations.

In the past, reducing asbestos exposure limits was voluntary and only encouraged by mine regulators. Once the new law takes effect, mining operations will be penalized for violating the new MSHA regulations if testing shows asbestos exposure is above the new limit. Regulators can issue citations and fines, enforce requirements for workers to wear approved respirators, order the company to install new dust control equipment, and take other preventative measures to reduce asbestos fibers in the air.

Northshore Mining's Ore Plant in Silver Bay and Northshore's Mine in Babbitt, Minnesota

The company in question is Northshore Mining where federal testing has turned upneedle–shaped asbestos fibers at the ore plant in Silver Bay, Minnesota. Airborne asbestos was also found at Northshore's mine in Babbitt, Minnesota. The plant in Silver Bay crushes and separates taconite, a metallic iron, using huge magnets. The taconite is transported by train from the mine 50 miles away near Babbitt, Minnesota.

As the taconite is processed, it creates dust contaminated with asbestos fibers. Asbestos is a known carcinogen, and causes life threatening diseases such as asbestosis, asbestos lung cancer, and mesothelioma. Mesothelioma, is a rare cancer linked almost exclusively to asbestos exposure that affects the lining of the lungs, chest, abdominal cavity or the heart. The mesothelioma diagnosis rate in Northern Minnesota is about twice as high as it is elsewhere in the state. Iron Range miners are exposed to large amounts of taconite dust and the dust could be causing the high incidence of mesothelioma in the miners.

Gerald Holeman, the Duluth–based assistant district manager for the Mine Safety and Health Administration, said asbestos air sampling will continue in Minnesota mines where there is an "overexposure potential," though he would not identify the mines. (Star Tribune, March 7, 2008)

Asbestos Exposure and Your Legal Rights

Since 1984, the asbestos attorneys at Brayton Purcell have been extensively involved with the legal rights of asbestos victims, including injured workers and their families. We have represented both asbestos workers and individuals who have come into contact with asbestos through others. We seek damages to the full extent allowed by law in order to compensate our clients for their pain and suffering, loss of wages, and medical expenses.