Coal miners lung versus silicosis….frying pan or fire?

29 Sep Coal miners lung versus silicosis….frying pan or fire?

Coal miner’s lung, or black lung, has been firmly in the media spotlight in Queensland in recent times due to the states coal mining industry. Medically known as Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis (CWP), this respiratory condition is caused by prolonged exposure to coal dust which progressively builds up in the lungs and cannot be removed by the body; this leads to inflammation, fibrosis, and in worse cases, necrosis. However, workers who dug Brisbane’s underground road network might face the next undiagnosed public health ­crisis, as a world expert flagged concerns for their wellbeing.

MPs were shocked to hear from Dr Robert Cohen at a parliamentary inquiry into coal workers’ pneumoconiosis yesterday, where he predicted “hundreds or thousands” of Queensland’s 30,000 coal miners unknowingly had the potentially fatal disease, rather than the 20 diagnosed. But the committee was left reeling when Dr Cohen insisted silicosis testing should be done on workers on Brisbane’s Legacy Way and Airport Link, describing silicone exposure as “probably more dangerous” than coal dust. The hearing heard from a CFMEU official that silicone levels in some tunnels were 10 times higher than allowable levels in coal mines.

Silicosis is a lung disease caused by breathing in tiny bits of silica, a mineral that is part of sand, rock, and mineral ores such as quartz. It mostly affects workers exposed to silica dust in occupations such mining, glass manufacturing, and foundry work. Over time, exposure to silica particles causes scarring in the lungs, which can harm your ability to breathe. Silicosis affects the lungs by damaging the lining of the lung air sacs. Once this begins, it leads to scarring and, in some situations, to a condition called progressive massive fibrosis. This condition happens when there is severe scarring and stiffening of the lung, which makes it difficult to breathe.

A spokesman for the Office of Industrial Relations said companies had to conduct standardised respiratory function tests and chest X-rays for people working around airborne silica.

Dr Cohen recommended specialist black lung clinics be set up to provide screening, evaluation and treatment, which should include mobile vans sent into mining communities.

If you believe you may have had occupational exposure to silica or coal talk to your doctor and request a Complex Pulmonary Function Test.