Black lung likely existed during years it was thought to have been eradicated, says expert

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A renowned expert on black lung told an inquiry the disease likely existed during those years it was thought to have been eradicated.

Black lung or coal worker’s pneumoconiosis is a disabling occupational disease that is caused by long-term exposure to excessive levels of coal mine dust. There is no cure for black lung although it can be prevented.

It was thought to have been eradicated in Australia until Percy Verrall, a retired coal miner was diagnosed with the disease in November 2015.

US black lung expert, Dr. Robert Cohen said it isn’t likely to be the case.

“You’re mining significant quantities of coal in Queensland and not to have one single case, it sorts of begs the imagination,” ABC quoted Dr. Cohen as saying.

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

Dr. Cohen said people weren’t too vigilant about looking for it.

“If you don’t take X-rays well or don’t look at the X-rays, you won’t find disease in your population and you don’t have to do anything about it,” he said.

Dr. Cohen said it was possible black lung caused many of the deaths among Queensland miners.

The handling of coal workers’ X-rays was criticised during the inquiry. Committee chair Jo-Ann Miller said thousands of X-rays were found inside a shipping container nest to Health Surveillance Unit at Ipswich. She said other X-rays were kept inside a broom closet.

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

Dr. Cohen said coal port workers could also be exposed to this disease.

“These workers are exposed to a dust that we know can cause respiratory illness and we need to look at them and see if they are sick or not,” he said.

The parliamentary will report back in April.

Nineteen cases of black lung in Queensland have been confirmed so far.

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