More black lung cases expected in Central Queensland
MORE miners are expected to be diagnosed with the potentially deadly "black lung disease", also known as coal miner's pneumoconiosis.
Professor Malcolm Sim, the expert tasked with assessing the State's black lung screening system, said the review that started last year would go over miners' past x-rays and medical records.
"The real question is what is the extent of that increase?" he said.
The CFMEU's Jason Hill said the mining union feared many more people would be diagnosed.
He said the union had up to 40 names of people concerned they or a family member might have the disease, or had died from it.
"The best treatment for it, from my understanding, is get it diagnosed early and it's sort of controllable," Mr Hill said.
"But once you go to the stage two of it, you're more or less looking at a death sentence."
Mr Hill said he believed mines had been exceeding the mandated coal dust levels for a long time and "the system" had let miners down.
Five miners have already been diagnosed with the disease.
The miners worked at some point in their careers at Oaky Creek, Grasstree or Carborough Downs mines in central Queensland and Ipswich.
Mines Minister Anthony Lynham said two of the miners spent most of their mining careers in the United Kingdom and the United States.
"Coal inspectors are working closely with all of Queensland's 12 operating underground coal mines, including those with coal dust issues related to longwall mining techniques," he said.
"Eight mines over the past 12 months have been directed to either improve monitoring or bring respirable dust levels back into compliance.
"Of Queensland's 12 operating underground coal mines, only one is exceeding dust limits now."
Dr Lynham and Mr Hill would not identify the mine exceeding the dust limit.
Dr Lynham said it would be inappropriate to name the mine - where workers are currently wearing respirators - because it might now comply with respirable dust levels.
Open-cut miners are also at risk, Prof Sim said.
"It really depends on the level of dust exposure and there are some high risk jobs in that part of the industry as well," he said.
But Queensland Resources Council chief Michael Roche said most open-cut workers worked in air conditioned cabs in trucks and other equipment.
Prof Sim said there was no risk from trains carrying coal.
"This is a disease that comes on after many years of exposure to coal mine dust," he said.
Prof Sim is expected to complete an interim report on his review of the Coal Mine Workers' Health Scheme by the end of March and detailed recommendations by about June.
The Coal Mine Workers' Health Scheme sees miners have chest x-rays when they start work, at least every five years and when they retire.
Dr Lynham said the mines department and Queensland Health were cross-checking their current records.
"But a priority will also be to make sure this continues into the future so no cases are missed," he said.
"This will also be part of Prof Sim's review.
"Our mining safety legislation is in the very early stages of being updated and will include a focus what changes are required to ensure underground coal dust is kept at safe levels."
Dr Lynham has also written to federal resources minister Josh Frydenberg about placing the health issue on the agenda for the national council of mining ministers.
- APN NEWSDESK