Background Higher rates of mesothelioma, pneumoconiosis, lung cancer, and heart disease mortality have been reported in Minnesota taconite (iron ore) workers compared to the rest of the state population. Oxidative stress and inflammation are important underlying mechanisms in cancer and cardiovascular disease, and exposure to silica containing dust with a high iron content may play a key role in the observed elevated health risks.
Methods In this study, we compared ICP-MS-measured plasma iron concentrations to levels of circulating inflammatory markers (cytokines and chemokines) in 130 taconite workers using linear regression analysis adjusting for covariates.
Results Plasma iron levels varied substantially, ranging from 49 to 636 µg/dL, with a mean of 107 (±60) µg/dL. After adjusting for age, body mass index, gender and smoking status, plasma iron levels were positively associated with the levels of chemokines RANTES (p=0.06), TARC (p=0.04), and MDC (p=0.02).
Discussion These findings lend some support to the hypothesis that exposure to iron in taconite dust may lead to elevated levels of extracellular iron both in the lung and in the general circulation, producing reactive oxygen species and catalysing oxidative stress. Given that TARC and MDC have been prospectively associated with lung cancer risk in other research, there is a need to better understand the relationship between extracellular iron levels and these biomarkers in taconite workers. Further analyses to assess other metrics of iron exposure from taconite dust components on plasma iron concentrations and measures of oxidative stress are warranted.
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