ONE of Australia’s leading respiratory specialists says there could be devastating black lung disease in Hunter coal miners, and it is disturbing that no one knows for sure.
University of Newcastle Professor Peter Gibson, and the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand he heads, warned that deteriorating dust exposure control in many Australian mines and a failure of the screening process contributed to the re-emergence of black lung disease in Australia.
The disease, which is chronic, debilitating and can cause premature death, was thought to have been eradicated in Australia decades ago, but cases have been reported in Queensland. Underground miners are most at risk of the disease.
The Thoracic Society says a complete overhaul of the system to prevent and detect the disease is required. This should include screening of all mine workers, including all Hunter miners; a reduction in the coal dust levels miners can be exposed to; mandatory reporting of respiratory conditions and a reporting process independent of industry.
“It is unacceptable that any new cases of coal workers pneumoconiosis (CWP) should be occurring in Australia in 2016 because this is a preventable disease, and it’s a problem that’s fixable,” Professor Gibson said.
“We urgently need to review the levels of dust to which coal miners are exposed and develop a national, standardised, diagnosis and reporting scheme for CWP that is independent of industry, so the true burden of disease in coal workers can be accurately identified and monitored.”