Inquiry hears horrors of black lung disease

March 15, 2017 Richard Szabo

A North American expert in black lung has revealed at an inquiry the deadly disease is still killing Queensland coal miners even though authorities thought it was non-existent.

United States black lung specialist Dr Robert Cohen told a State Parliamentary inquiry the absence of confirmed cases seems hard to believe.

“You are mining significant quantities of coal in Queensland and not to have one single case, it sort of begs the imagination,” he says.

“That’s something that really should ring alarm bells and have people thinking ‘we’re not looking carefully’.”

The remarks fly in the face of the mining industry’s three-decade view that black lung had been eradicated.

“If you do not take x-rays well or do not look at the x-rays, you will not find disease in your population and you do not have to do anything about it,” he says.

When deputy committee chair and Queensland MP Lawrence Springborg asked whether 70,000 former coal workers in the US had black lung listed as contributing to their death on their death certificate, Cohen claimed that figure was a “significant underestimate”.

Springborg claims that as many as one in 70 current coal workers have some sign of black lung found in their x-rays.

“You are potentially talking about thousands of coal workers in Queensland who have had black lung disease which has probably contributed in many cases to their death,” he told a press conference.

Former coal miner Steve Mellor is emotional a year after being diagnose with black lung.

“This should not be like this; men are dying just because we went to work – that’s all we did – we went to work and now we are going to die from it,” he told the ABC.

“We need to stop it from happening again, we need to stop these people from going underground and getting this disease.”

Committee chair Jo-Ann Miller revealed thousands of x-rays were discovered in a shipping container adjacent to a Health Surveillance Unit in Ipswich.

“We understand that a lot of that evidence, their x-rays, have probably been destroyed now. It is an indictment on public administration in this state that this has occurred,” she says.

Cohen recommended that mobile clinics be one-way to improve surveillance of the disease.

The inquiry will report its findings in April 2017.

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