The province has hired specialists to study the effects of silica dust on iron ore mine workers in Labrador West.

The firm Morneau Shepell will focus on past and current employees of the Iron Ore Company of Canada and Wabush Mines.

The study will take two years and cost the province almost $900,000.

Ron Thomas, president of Steelworkers' Local 5795 at IOC, welcomed the announcement.

He noted it comes on the heels of another study in 2000, which concluded there should be another assessment within a decade.

"We've been pushing for this since 2000," Thomas said. "In the last two or three weeks we've had three more workers' compensation claims approved under occupational disease in IOC."

"Unfortunately, I'd say that this is probably going to uncover an epidemic in this area."

Silica dust is known to cause silicosis, a lung disease. But experts say it rarely occurs until at least 20 years after first exposure.

The first year of the study will involve preparation and development work.

The actual review of X-rays and findings will be completed in the second year, along with a final report.

Participation in the study is voluntary.