A long-term study on the link between inhaled taconite dust and lung disorders, released by researchers at the University of Minnesota on Dec. 1. reportedly found that mine workers exposed to significant airborne mineral fibers were more likely to develop cancers than workers exposed to low levels. Funded by a $5 million grant, the study took six years to complete.

Researchers conducted comparative studies between miners who became ill and miners who remained healthy. Additionally, they assessed the amount of dust exposure in the mines. The workers’ spouses were also tested.

Ultimately, workers who had been employed at the mines for more than 21 years were up to 60 percent more likely to show signs of scarring on their lungs, the study says. Furthermore, workers required to work in areas that had higher levels of fiber-like dust were also more likely to exhibit lung scarring than were other workers. The researchers also stated that more studies may be needed. It was not immediately certain if exposure to commercial asbestos could be ruled out as a cause of the scarring evident in workers’ lungs, reportedly.

By law, employers are required to maintain a workplace that does not imperil the health or lives of their workers. In work environments that are hazardous by nature, such as mines or plants, workers must be provided with proper training and proper safety gear to reduce the risk of a workplace injury or illness. However, when workers do suffer an injury or become ill, they may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. If these benefits were to be denied, a worker could retain a lawyer to advocate the worker’s case and possibly even file a lawsuit in connection with the worker’s suffering.