Black Lung and How to Control It
Last month marked the eighth Queensland miner to be diagnosed with Black Lung since May last year. So what is black lung? Why has it suddenly re-emerged, and how can we control it?
What is Black Lung?
Black Lung – also known as pneumoconiosis – is a chronic, irreversible lung disease caused by the inhalation and accumulation of coal dust in the lungs.
Coal workers with Black Lung typically show symptoms of shortness of breath and a chronic cough, but with further exposure and time, the disease may progress to a more severe form known as progressive massive fibrosis.
Progressive Massive Fibrosis
Progressive massive fibrosis occurs when the buildups of coal dust lump together in larger lesions that show up as large (more than 1cm) opacities on x-ray. As these lesions lump together there is generally significant destruction of lung tissue, with debilitating severe symptoms including:
- shortness of breath
- chronic cough
- coughing up black mucus
- high blood pressure
- heart problems
- increased susceptibility to autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and scleroderma (excessive hardening of the skin)
Controlling Black Lung
As Black Lung cannot be cured, the only way to control it is through preventing exposure to coal dust. The strict application of engineering controls such as dust suppression combined with ventilation systems in all mining operations is necessary to limit exposure to respirable coal dust.
Medical examination programs are also vital, aimed primarily at early detection so interventions can be made to prevent disease progression by limiting further exposure.
While regulatory systems were set up in the 1970s, which included providing regular X-rays to detect black lung, the fact that 7 cases have been confirmed warrants a review of the pneumoconiosis screening. We at Elliotts Australia, urge you to help make Black Lung history and join the fight. http://dusttodust.org.au/
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