Black lung advocates say 20 Queenslanders diagnosed with coal dust diseases in a fortnight
A black lung advocacy group says there have been almost 20 new diagnoses of coal dust diseases in Queensland workers in the past two weeks and there are many more likely coming.
The struggle for recognition
Allan Whyte spent 46 years working in Queensland's coal mines and has now been diagnosed with coal workers' pneumoconiosis (CWP) — or 'black lung'.
His doctors say he is on borrowed time.
"I can't walk from here to the car because I'm out of breath. I can't do anything at all," Mr Whyte said.
"My doctor in Brisbane told me to come back in four months … but he doesn't know if I'll make it back."
International expert Dr Robert Cohen has diagnosed Mr Whyte with CWP, but the miner said doctors in Australia would not recognise he had the disease.
"Even when you get the leading expert in the world to say that you have it, our blokes will still say you are 'idiopathic' … which means to say they don't know what the bloody hell they are talking about," Mr Whyte said.
"I don't think these blokes in Australia really want to confess to the fact that they've ballsed it up for the last 30 or 40 years."
State disputes claims of new cases
What is black lung?
Pneumoconiosis is a potentially fatal disease caused by long exposure to coal dust, more commonly known as "black lung" because those with the disease have lungs that look black instead of a healthy pink.
Black lung most often stems from working in the coal industry or in the manufacturing of graphite or man-made carbon products and has no known cure.
The risk of getting black lung depends on how much time has been spent around coal dust.
There are two types of black lung: simple and complicated.
There are relatively few symptoms associated with simple black lung, also known as coal worker's pneumoconiosis (CWP), and the prognosis is usually good.
But CWP can progress into the more complicated progressive massive fibrosis (PMF), the symptoms of which may include a long-term cough and shortness of breath.
There is no cure for black lung, but doctors may be able to treat complications caused by the disease.
In 2013, coal worker's pneumoconiosis killed 25,000 people, according to UK medical journal The Lancet.
Source: University of Kentucky, US National Library of Medicine and The Lancet
Queensland Mines Minister Anthony Lynham said Dr Cohen had been integral to the work being done in Australia.
"Doctor Cohen is actually leading the push for Queensland," Mr Lynham said.
"Something like 30,000 cases have been reviewed in Australia and then secondarily reviewed by Dr Cohen's team in the US, and those results are coming back to us."
In a statement, a State Government spokesperson denied there had been a jump in confirmed cases.
"Since 2015, 97 cases of mine dust lung disease have been confirmed, including 35 cases of black lung," the statement said.
"Only two new diagnoses of mine dust lung disease have been reported to the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy in the past fortnight.
"Neither of these cases was a diagnosis of black lung."
Federal MP 'appalled'
Federal MP Michelle Landry was critical of how the situation had been handled by the State Government.
"It's a big failure, an epic failure — I think something needs to be done urgently about this," Ms Landry said.
"I think there needs to be a total review of these X-rays to see if people have got this condition because there's obviously something being missed.
"I will be writing a letter today to the state minister to tell them they need to get their act together on this."
Ms Landry said she supported a push for mining companies to fund a compensation scheme for affected workers.
"This is their workers we are talking about, their employees, a lot of these people have worked for generations for the same mining companies," she said.
"I think they need to put a bit back into the health of the miners.
"Big profits are made in mining and I am a big supporter of the mining sector, but I think the mining companies need to step up here and get in and assist these workers."