A recent spate of coal miners’ pneumoconiosis cases, otherwise known as black lung, in Queensland is causing concern among members of the mining community. Two more people were confirmed to have the serious disease last week, bringing the state’s total number of cases to eight over the last few months.
The Daily Mercury reported that experts thought the illness had been eradicated in the country. However, the Queensland branch of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) believes up to 1,000 miners in the state could have pneumoconiosis.
The disease develops in people who are exposed to coal dust – often in the workplace – and can take years to become symptomatic. At the moment, doctors have only diagnosed the illness in Queensland workers; however, New South Wales and Victoria also have large-scale coal mining industries.
As such, it may not be long before cases of black lung are reported in other locations. In NSW, those who contract dust diseases due to their jobs can seek compensation. The money can help with a range of financial issues, including medical costs for treating the illness.
“We’re projecting that we’re going to have 16 per cent of current and retired coal mine workers with pneumoconiosis,” CFMEU’s Industry Health and Safety Representative Jason Hill told the ABC earlier this month.
Senate Committee hears submissions
The federal government tasked the Senate Select Committee on Health with investigating the black lung problem in Queensland, and several organisations handed in submissions on the issue.
Meanwhile, the Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines asked Monash University’s Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health to carry out an independent review of current respiratory screening practices for the coal-mining sector.
The review will explore several elements of the state’s official medical assessment procedures, including evaluating the availability of expertise to monitor the problem, as well as forming strategies to improve the screening framework.
Percy Verrall, 73, from Ipswich near Brisbane, worked in the coal industry for nearly three decades. Sadly, he was also the first person in 30 years to be diagnosed with black lung.
He told the ABC that he never wore a mask while mining underground and doesn’t want to see other young people suffer his condition.
“They could finish up just the same way as me, or walking around with an oxygen bottle hooked up to them all the time,” he stated.
The Senate Committee’s final report is expected on June 20 2016.