Risk assessment due to environmental exposures to fibrous particulates associated with taconite ore

Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology. 2007 Nov 28 [Epub ahead of print] [Link]

Wilson R, McConnell EE, Ross M, Axten CW, Nolan RP.

Department of Physics and the Center for Risk Assessment, 9 Oxford Street Rear, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.


In the early 1970s, it became a concern that exposure to the mineral fibers associated taconite ore processed in Silver Bay, Minnesota would cause asbestos-related disease including gastrointestinal cancer. At that time data gaps existed which have now been significantly reduced by further research. To further our understanding of the types of airborne fibers in Silver Bay we undertook a geological survey of their source the Peter Mitchell Pit, and found that there are no primary asbestos minerals at a detectable level. However we identified two non-asbestos types of fibrous minerals in very limited geological locales. Air sampling useful for risk assessment was done to determine the type, concentrations and size distribution of the population of airborne fibers around Silver Bay. Approximately 80% of the airborne fibers have elemental compositions consistent with cummingtonite-grunerite and the remaining 20% have elemental compositions in the tremolite-actinolite series. The mean airborne concentration of both fiber types is less than 0.00014 fibers per milliliter that is within the background level reported by the World Health Organization. We calculate the risk of asbestos-related mesothelioma and lung cancer using a variety of different pessimistic assumptions. (i) that all the non-asbestos fibers are as potent as asbestos fibers used in the EPA-IRIS listing for asbestos; with a calculated risk of asbestos-related cancer for environmental exposure at Silver Bay of 1 excess cancer in 28,500 lifetimes (or 35 excess cancers per 1,000,000 lifetimes) and secondly that taconite associated fibers are as potent as chrysotile the least potent form of asbestos. The calculated risk is less than 0.77 excess cancer case in 1,000,000 lifetimes. Finally, we briefly review the epidemiology studies of grunerite asbestos (amosite) focusing on the exposure conditions associated with increased risk of human mesothelioma.

Keywords: Risk; Fibers; Particles; Taconite; Asbestos; Exposures