A section of a coal worker's lung showing black lung disease with progressive massive fibrosis.
A section of a coal worker's lung showing black lung disease with progressive massive fibrosis. Contributed

Call for black lung levy on mining companies

FORMER miners diagnosed with black lung are calling on Queensland-based mining companies to compensate workers through a million dollar levy.

The Mine Dust Victims Group has demanded coal companies pay a levy of one cent per tonne per week. The levy would pay for the medical bills of patients diagnosed with mine dust diseases.

Former Mackay miner Stephen Mellor is one of those leading the charge.

In 2016 radiologists noticed minute spots on an x-ray of his lungs. The same year Mr Mellor, who had been working as a contractor in underground mines across the Mackay region for 13 years, was diagnosed with black lung.

Black lung, or coal workers' pneumoconiosis, is similar to asbestosis or emphysema. Those who have it suffer from shortness of breath and a persistent cough. In its most serious form, patients may require constant oxygen supplies or even lung transplants.

Fortunately for Mr Mellor, doctors found the disease in its earlier stages. However, he said just confirming the diagnosis has cost him tens of thousands of dollars.

Once diagnosed Mr Mellor was unable to work in mining and after leaving his job lost crucial networks of friends and colleagues.

"We can't go into dusty environments or any environment that endangers our lungs," he said. "I pretty much lost all contact with my family and friends over it."

The levy is supported by the CFMEU, which claims a number of older patients are refusing treatment because they cannot afford to travel south to see specialists.

CFMEU Mackay district president Stephen Smyth said about half the 80-plus cases of mine dust lung diseases in Queensland had been detected in the Mackay region.

He fears hundreds of miners may be living with undiagnosed conditions, saying "at least 290 cases" still had to have a diagnosis confirmed.