Cancer research bill in Pawlenty’s hands

If signed, the bill would fund University research of a rare form of lung cancer affecting Iron Range miners.

by Hilary Dickinson

On Thursday, state legislators sent a bill to Gov. Tim Pawlenty that would fund University research of a rare form of lung cancer affecting Iron Range miners.

The House of Representatives passed the bill 121-1 after the Senate unanimously passed the bill Monday.

Pending Pawlenty’s signature, the University will have $4.9 million to study the cancer mesothelioma. Pawlenty has voiced support for the bill.

Fifty-eight Iron Range miners have died from mesothelioma, which is caused by asbestos and taconite dust.

The University’s research would begin as soon as Pawlenty signs the bill, said Jeffrey Mandel, an occupational physician in the School of Public Health.

The University plans to analyze death records, perform environmental reviews and conduct screenings of current and former miners. The research is scheduled to take five years.

The bill’s legislative approval is “good news in terms of having the go ahead to better understand some of the issues that the Iron Range is addressing,” Mandel said. “The funds will create the opportunity to understand some of these things in more detail now.”

Sandy Layman, commissioner for the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, said she’s also pleased.

“The question of importance wasn’t a concern; it was the source of funding,” Layman said. The board has already provided $250,000 for the research.

“It’s important the study move on without delay,” she said.

The source of funding has sparked debate. The research will come from a Department of Commerce-administered fund instead of a special workers compensation fund, the latter of which Pawlenty threatened to veto.

Mandel said state funds allow the research to be done quickly, as opposed to having to start and stop the research.

If Pawlenty doesn’t sign the bill, Mandel said the University would have to get funds from grants.

“The funding the bill addresses allows for the work to be completed, and that’s what we’re hoping to do,” Mandel said.