Once again, a major mining company is attempting to mislead and confuse its past and present employees and the public about its concern for their health and safety.
An October 2007 newsletter issued by Cleveland-Cliffs announced that it intends to conduct an independent, scientific study on the health of current and former workers at Northshore Mining and its predecessor Reserve Mining Company. The study will focus on lung ailments of employees and determine if those ailments were caused by exposure to taconite dust and asbestos found in the mines and processing plants.
The newsletter went on to state that the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency were cooperating with Cleveland-Cliffs on this allegedly "independent" study. Nothing could be further from the truth. Carol Woolverton, the Acting Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health, and Brad Moore, the Commissioner of the Pollution Control Agency, have assured us they will put any necessary resources towards supporting the study led by the University of Minnesota and will not provide resources towards assisting Cleveland-Cliffs on this study. Both agencies are 100 percent committed to working with the U of M on a truly independent study of this issue and see no benefit in participating in a parallel study funded entirely by Cleveland-Cliffs.
When the Department of Health admitted that it had withheld information about a high incidence of mesothelioma among Iron Range miners, public confidence in the state agencies was significantly compromised. At a June 28 meeting in Mt. Iron, the U of M offered to lead an independent study of the mesothelioma risks associated with iron ore and taconite mining and processing activities. The U of M study is well underway and multiple state agencies and health care organizations have pledged their commitment to work with the U of M on the study.
We have also talked with Doctors Finnegan and Mandel, the lead university researchers responsible for the U of M study. They too are in agreement that a parallel study funded entirely by Cleveland-Cliffs will only serve to confuse the public and will have little credibility given the mining company's potential liability for any adverse health impacts from its operations.
Last Friday, we urged Dana Byrne, Public Relations Director for Cleveland-Cliffs, to shelve the company's plans to conduct its own study of the mesothelioma issues. As noted by our state agencies and the U of M, two studies will only further confuse the public on a very complex and highly emotional issue. We must trust the U of M to conduct a single, unbiased, objective and independent study and allow those results to speak for themselves.
Cleveland-Cliffs should consider contributing the funds it had intended to use on its own study to the U of M study.
Cleveland-Cliffs has already confused the public by erroneously stating that two state agencies were committed to its study of miners' health issues. To repair the damage to their public credibility, Cleveland-Cliffs should abandon its plans for a parallel study. If company executives are truly concerned about the health of its past and present employees, they should consider making a financial contribution to the university's study. That financial commitment could be pro-rated to reflect the proportion of mining activities conducted by Cleveland- Cliffs. Other mining companies could also be encouraged to make similar financial contributions.
The U of M study has the best chance of finding real answers to health questions that have plagued our area for generations – answers that will have credibility within our communities. A second study by Cleveland-Cliffs will only serve to further confuse the public on an already complicated issue.