Comprehensive assessment of exposures to elongate mineral particles in the taconite mining industry

Jooyeon Hwang, Gurumurthy Ramachandran, Peter C Raynor, Bruce H Alexander, Jeffrey H Mandel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Since the 1970s, concerns have been raised about elevated rates of mesothelioma in the vicinity of the taconite mines in the Mesabi Iron Range. However, insufficient quantitative exposure data have hampered investigations of the relationship between cumulative exposures to elongate mineral particles (EMP) in taconite dust and adverse health effects. Specifically, no research on exposure to taconite dust, which includes EMP, has been conducted since 1990. This article describes a comprehensive assessment of present-day exposures to total and amphibole EMP in the taconite mining industry. Similar exposure groups (SEGs) were established to assess present-day exposure levels and buttress the sparse historical data. Personal samples were collected to assess the present-day levels of worker exposures to EMP at six mines in the Mesabi Iron Range. The samples were analyzed using National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) methods 7400 and 7402. For many SEGs in several mines, the exposure levels of total EMP were higher than the NIOSH Recommended Exposure Limit (REL). However, the total EMP classification includes not only the asbestiform EMP and their non-asbestiform mineral analogs but also other minerals because the NIOSH 7400 cannot differentiate between these. The concentrations of amphibole EMP were well controlled across all mines and were much lower than the concentrations of total EMP, indicating that amphibole EMP are not major components of taconite EMP. The levels are also well below the NIOSH REL of 0.1 EMP cc-1. Two different approaches were used to evaluate the variability of exposure between SEGs, between workers, and within workers. The related constructs of contrast and homogeneity were calculated to characterize the SEGs. Contrast, which is a ratio of between-SEG variability to the sum of between-SEG and between-worker variability, provides an overall measure of whether there are distinctions between the SEGs. Homogeneity, which is the ratio of the within-worker variance component to the sum of the between-worker and within-worker variance components, provides an overall measure of how similar exposures are for workers within an SEG. Using these constructs, it was determined that the SEGs are formed well enough when grouped by mine for both total and amphibole EMP to be used for epidemiological analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)966-978
Number of pages13
JournalAnnals of Occupational Hygiene
Issue number8
StatePublished - Oct 2013


  • elongate mineral particles
  • exposure assessment
  • exposure variability
  • fiber measurement
  • similar exposure groups
  • taconite


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