Scary Black Lung assessment
Mining scientist warns disease is everywhere, and solutions will take years.
Wednesday 14 December 2016
A particulate matter scientist with decades of mining experience says Black lung or Coal Workers Pneumoconiosis will be discovered anywhere there is coal mining in Australia, and that it will take years to develop workable solutions to remove the risk.
“We cut coal the same way, using the same machines, doing the same amount of tonnes, using the same men as America does, and they get 1000 new cases a year, it’s crazy to think we won’t,” Dr Brian Plush from PM10 Laboratories told Shift Miner.
“They know it's there; they're just better at diagnosing it.
“It's my opinion that misdiagnosis [of Black Lung ] has been around for the last 30 years in Australia.
"It has been misdiagnosed as emphysema or some other lung disease.
"Historically coal miners are smokers, so emphysema from smoking tends to be the end game when they present with some form of lung debilitation.
“The symptoms of Black Lung and emphysema from smoking present the same, so you can certainly see how this could be misdiagnosed."
Dr Plush gave a presentation to a Rockhampton sitting of the Parliamentary Select Committee examining the re-emergence of Black Lung this week, in which he said he was optimistic that in theory Black Lung could be eradicated. However, he doubted it was achievable in a practical sense.
He also says that while Queensland has 17 confirmed cases, it is ironically the mining province best managing the dust problem at the moment.
However, into the future, he says the industry needs to recognise that it is particle size, not particle type that is the problem.
“Anything less than 2.5 microns will give you lung disease,” he said.
“That's why the sugar industry has lung disease, why the grain industry has lung disease, why bakers get dusted lung.
“Unfortunately length of exposure is what we don't know.
"We don't know how much exposure is required for a person to get the fibrosis that creates the scarring that creates the disease, we don't know that.”
Mr Plush was also highly critical of Queensland’s current volumetric threshold for acceptable dust in a mining environment saying that it's a big part of the problem.
“I have challenged the exposure levels for many years,” he said
"Which one is safe? We don’t know; because there is no science underpinning any of them.
“Comprehensive research needs to be done probably through rodent trials, so we can identify when fibrosis occurs and work back from there.
“We could do some preliminary research in the next 12 months to give us some form of understanding, but that would need to be repeated over time.”
The Queensland Parliamentary Select Committee inquiry into the re-emergence of black lung or Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis (CWP) will have further public hearings in Tieri, Blackwater and Emerald over the next week.
Committee Chair Mrs Jo-Ann Miller MP said the Committee is encouraging community members to attend and participate.
“So far we have received some very comprehensive and revealing evidence in regional locations, and the Committee is hoping that these December hearings will give us the opportunity to hear even more from those affected or with expert knowledge or insights on the topic,” Mrs Miller MP said.
“We are calling on stakeholders to get involved so that we can identify and learn from the past and current system failings and formulate a sophisticated response to the issues and practices that have let down our mine workers and their families.”
Details about the timing and location of each of the December regional hearings, together with other information about the Committee’s activities, is available on the inquiry website.