Since 1980, at least 29 Minnesota taconite mine workers have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, a fatal lung disease caused exclusively by exposure to asbestos. So did the mine's owner, LTV Steel Mining Company or Cleveland-Cliffs, which managed the LTV mine for 15 years before it closed, tell the Mine Safety and Health Administration when it discovered the disease? Of course not.
A loophole in a 1977 agency rule requires companies to report possible work-related illnesses only among active workers, said Carol Jones, MSHA's former Health Division chief. Because it takes 20 to 40 years after asbestos exposure for mesothelioma to strike, the deadly disease mainly strikes retirees, she said.And if the regulation says they don't have to report, then why should they?
The taconite companies say their employees' health and safety is their foremost priority, yet none of the 29 mesothelioma cases was reported.
Of course, it turns out that the companies probably knew about the disease even before some of the workers retired:
Family members of two of the victims -- Tony Plevell and Jim Stanisich -- say companies knew of their illnesses before they retired.And LTV wasn't the only evil-doer:
Jill Plevell, an Arizona psychologist, said managers of the LTV Steel Mining Company's pit near Babbitt "absolutely knew" her father had mesothelioma because he was on disability for weeks before he retired on March 1, 1996. He died two months later.
U.S. Steel Corp. did not notify MSHA of the December 2003 mesothelioma death of Jim Stanisich, a 47-year-old maintenance worker who was employed for more than 29 years at its Minntac plant, according to the records. Stanisich "was working in the mines when he was diagnosed" and "retired after he died," said his widow, Judy Stanisich, of Eveleth.Boy, I guess they're in trouble, right? Think again. Maximum penalty for failure to report an illness: $60.
Citing privacy reasons, U.S. Steel spokesman John Armstrong said he could not comment.