Claustrophobia never bothered Keith Stoddart as he sheared coal from the wall of a long, narrow and dusty tunnel hundreds of meters underground in northeastern Australia. Now, racked by a progressive, deadly lung disease, the 68-year-old gets panicked by pangs of shortness of breath.
His illness had been absent since the mid 1980s in Australia, the world’s top coal-exporting country. At least, that’s what records showed until May 2015, when mine-veterans like Stoddart began presenting in doctors’ rooms with an irreversible scourge from a bygone era: black lung disease.
Twenty-five cases of so-called coal workers’ pneumoconiosis have since been confirmed in Stoddart’s home state of Queensland, government records show. Many of them were missed by routine medical screening, and all of them point to weaknesses in modern mining technologies and dust controls that the government is now trying to fix.
Coal is Queensland’s biggest export-earner, generating A$21.4 billion ($17 billion) in the year ended June 2016.
As thousands of current and retired coal miners undergo checks for the condition, caused by chronic inhalation of coal dust, lawyers are preparing compensation claims poised to ratchet up insurance costs for mining companies, and potentially subject them to legal claims for tens of millions of dollars in damages, said Stephen Smyth, state president of the mining and energy division of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, which represents the bulk of Queensland’s 5,500 underground coal miners.
“It is a ticking time bomb for the industry in Australia,” said David Lennox, a resources analyst with stock advisory firm Fat Prophets in Sydney. “It’s a crisis that’s been a long time in the making and, over a long period of time, it will ultimately take lives.”
For the rest of this article: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-07/deadly-lung-malady-s-return-shows-australia-s-struggle-with-coal