Black lung: what it is and how to prevent it

Earlier this month, Queensland Mines Minister Anthony Lingham confirmed that three cases of potentially fatal black lung had been reported by the state’s coal industry. The disease is believed to have been eradicated in Australia over 20 years ago.

What is black lung?

So what is black lung? Why did it suddenly recur and how can it be controlled?

Black lung, also known as pneumoconiosis, is a chronic, irreversible lung disease caused by inhalation and accumulation of charcoal dust in the lungs.

Severe symptoms of black lung

Black lung coal workers typically present with symptoms of shortness of breath and a chronic cough, but with further exposure and time, the disease can progress to a more serious form known as progressive massive fibrosis. there is.

Progressive macrofibrosis occurs when coal dust accumulations converge into large lesions that appear as large (1 cm or larger) opacities on x-rays. Collectively, these lesions commonly destroy lung tissue significantly, exacerbating serious symptoms such as:

  • difficulty breathing
  • chronic cough
  • coughing up black mucus
  • high blood pressure
  • heart problems
  • Increased susceptibility to autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and scleroderma (excessive hardening of the skin)

How to prevent black lung?

Black lung cannot be cured, so the only way to control it is to prevent exposure to coal dust. Engineering controls such as dust suppression combined with ventilation systems should be strictly applied in all mining operations to limit exposure to respirable coal dust.

Health screening programs are also important and are primarily aimed at early detection so that interventions can be made to prevent disease progression by limiting further exposure.

A regulatory system involving the provision of regular X-rays to detect black lung was set in the 1970s, but these regulations have not been maintained in recent years and these latest cases are the beginning of a bigger problem. There are reports that it may be just problem.

For more information on Black Lung, please visit Explainer: What is Black Lung and why do miners get it?

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