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Medicals miss some cases of black lung

BACK ON THE RADAR: A sixth confirmed case of black lung has renewed interest in the health hazards of coal mining.
BACK ON THE RADAR: A sixth confirmed case of black lung has renewed interest in the health hazards of coal mining. Stuart Cumming

PROFESSOR of occupational health and safety in mining David Cliff says black lung disease has always been a problem for coal miners.

"Back in the 19th century, it would be very common for an underground coal miner to end up with black lung," Mr Cliff said.

Prof Cliff, who works for the Minerals Industry Safety and Health Centre and is on the advisory committee for the state government's review, said he was of the belief safety measures introduced in the 1980s had eradicated the disease.

"During the 80s they brought in legislation about regular health checks, including the x-rays for... underground workers," he said. "Then they brought in the monitoring levels for exposure to dust."

Prof Cliff's comments came following the sixth confirmed case of black lung, as reported in the Daily Mercury on Saturday.

He said the issue was that medicals had "failed to detect" some cases.

The Queensland Coal Board was responsible for the health monitoring of coal miners until its abolition in 1998-99.

In 1984, after a survey of workers, Dr Rathus and Dr Abrahams delivered a report to the board, showing 75 workers were confirmed or suspected to have black lung.

The report recommended the establishment of the Coal Industry Employees' Health Scheme which didn't commence until 1993.

CFMEU district president Stephen Smyth said the fates of the 75 black lung victims were unknown.

"There's no records on whether or not their disease was treated," he said.

"I don't believe black lung was ever eradicated. I believe people stopped looking for it."

Minister for Natural Resources and Mines Dr Anthony Lynham said he couldn't "speak for the past" in relation to the State Government's responses to black lung.

"The Palaszczuk Labor Government has inherited this issue and we are taking action," he said.

"As we become aware of new information, it is being made publicly available."

A spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources and Mines said the department did not have "ready access" to the number of cases of black lung prior to 1984.

"It is thought incidences of respiratory lung disease would have been reported by the Board to health authorities at the time," he said.

Topics:  black lung disease

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