Black lung rears its ugly head

New research pointing to a resurgence of black lung disease among US coal miners has raised concerns about the potential for the disease to reappear in the Hunter.

A case study published in theDecember 15 edition of the US-basedCentres for Disease Control and Prevention journalfocused on 60 patients at a radiographic practice in Kentuckywho had symptoms ofblack lung, also known as progressive massive fibrosis.

“Surveillance data have indicated a resurgence in PMF in recent years, but the cases described in this report represent a large cluster not discovered through routine surveillance,” the journal article said.

The disease is caused by overexposure to respirable coal mine dust and leads to inflammation and fibrosis in the lungs.

The incidence of black lunghas fallen in recent decades with the introduction of stringent safety measures.

While several instances of the disease have been reported in Queensland in recent years, no detections have been made in NSW.

It was suggested Kentucky black lung cluster may have reflected the reluctance to investigate early symptoms.

“Some miners might have chosen to not seek radiographs or other health-related information during the earlier stages of their career to avoid threatening their ability to continue working in the industry,” the journal said.

The potential for the disease to occur in NSW was the subject of the NSW Minerals Council’s 2016 Health and community conference.

An updated version of the Protecting Against Airborne Dust Exposure in Coal Mines was also launched.

Coal Services chief executive Lucy Flemming said NSW standards relating to black lung were set by four state government standing orders that were designed to minimise dust, enforce control techniques and monitor worker health.

“The robust nature of the legislation and diligence of the dust monitoring and environmental standards in NSW coal mines has allowed us to help protect mine workers’ health and keep lung diseases such as pneumoconiosis at bay,” Ms Flemming said.