Black lung re-emergence ‘not surprising’

WHILE the rest of Queensland was shocked to hear of the re-emergence of black lung disease amongst coal miners, Alligator Creek resident Anne Davies was not surprised.

Six Queensland miners have recently been diagnosed with the potentially fatal lung disease, which was previously thought to have been eradicated in Australia.

Mrs Davies, 65, grew up in the small Welsh underground coal mining town of Tairgwaith.

There, she said, the disease referred to as 'pneumo' was rampant amongst older coal miners.

"Pneumo was just normal for all the old miners.

"I saw plenty of old men die of pneumo. One of my uncles had it and it's not good," she said.

"It was part of life back in the village."

Mrs Davies said it was mostly men in their 40s, 50s and 60s who would contract the disease - and coughing was the biggest indication they had 'pneumo'.

She said while residents in Tairgwaith knew the risks, they had no choice but to work underground.

"That was the only work. Many years ago (in the 1930s) children used to go down the mine at 10, 11, 12 years old," she said.

In 1971, the then 21-year-old Mrs Davies emigrated to Moranbah with her family, so her father and husband-to-be, Hywel, could work at the newly-opened open-cut Goonyella Mine.

Mrs Davies also worked at the mine, cleaning the single men's quarters.

"I could see a lot of coal dust and I thought 'Gee, it's strange they haven't got pneumo here'," she said.

As an asthmatic, Mrs Davies received specialist respiratory care.

Once, in the late 1980s, she raised her concerns about black lung disease to a chest specialist at the Mackay Base Hospital.

"I said, 'Do they have pneumo around here?' and he said 'Oh no, that was eradicated years ago, we don't have that'," she said.

Yet Mrs Davies was never quite convinced.

She isn't concerned for her husband or father, as they worked in the less dust-intensive open-cut style of mine. She just hopes her grandchildren - aged five, nine and 12 years - never work underground.

Black lung

The story so far:

 December 1, 2015: CFMEU announces four Queensland coal miners have been diagnosed with black lung.

 December 4, 2015: In Parliament, Minister for Mines Anthony Lynham announces a five-point action plan.

 January 13, 2016: A fifth case of black lung in Queensland is confirmed.

 January 15, 2016: A sixth case is confirmed.

 February 12, 2016: The Senate Select Committee on Health announces a public inquiry into the issue.

 March 7-8, 2016: Public Senate inquiry hearings are held in Mackay and Brisbane


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