A SECOND Hunter coal miner has been diagnosed with pneumoconiosis or “black lung”, a disease thought eradicated for decades until it resurfaced in Queensland in 2015.
The first case of black lung in NSW since the 1970s was confirmed in February, when a retired Hunter mine worker was diagnosed with the potentially fatal condition.
Confirmation of the new case came on Thursday when the NSW Resources Regulator announced it was investigating two new cases of dust disease in the state’s coal industry.
The regulator’s chief compliance officer, Anthony Keon, said one was a mineworker who had spent 30 years working underground, but had been on the surface since 2004.
The second case was of “simple silicosis”, a similar but different condition. This man had worked underground at various mines, including in the Hunter region, for 10 years, but had also worked in other industries, interstate and overseas, including tunnelling.
The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union’s northern district president, Peter Jordan, confirmed the man with black lung was a Hunter mine worker and a member of the union. “He worked underground in an earlier period of his life but it’s only being detected now,” Mr Jordan said. “We are looking after him and will continue to do so, as we have for the member whose case was confirmed earlier in the year.”
Mr Jordan said the man with silicosis was a member of the union’s south western district, which covered mines in the Illawarra and Lithgow regions.
Mr Keon said both workers were detected through health surveillance screening, which was provided to all current and retired coal workers as part of the NSW regulatory framework.
He said coal workers’ pneumoconiosis and silicosis were preventable diseases if appropriate dust control, atmospheric monitoring and worker monitoring measures were in place at mines.
The re-emergence of black lung has been a bigger issue in Queensland, with a state parliamentary report published in May stating that 21 cases had been detected between May 2015 and April 2017. Another four have reportedly been confirmed since then.
The report – Black Lung, White Lies – described “catastrophic failures” in the way dust was handled in that state’s coal industry. The Palaszczuk government accepted the inquiry’s 68 recommendations – including the need for a new regulator – but the CFMEU reportedly considered withdrawing its support during last month’s election campaign because it believed Labor was sitting on its hands on the issue.