American black lung expert Dr Bob Cohen.
American black lung expert Dr Bob Cohen. Geoff Egan

Why did we miss black lung cases for 30 years: expert

THE American black lung expert who was sent miners' x-rays to be rechecked believes three decades without a confirmed case of the disease in Queensland should have set off alarm bells that the detection system was not working.

University of Illinios occupational health expert Bob Cohen said for no cases to be detected despite underground coal mining continuing unabated was unusual.

"If people were surveying and they were finding a few cases here that would make some sense," he said.

"I think the fact is coal is coal, whether it's in the US or in Great Britain or anywhere else in the world, and humans are human.

"And if you're mining and your exposing people to dust you'd have to think that there's something going on there. And do have absolutely nothing just beggars the imagination."

After the re-discovery of black lung in 2015 the Queensland Government sent a sample of miner chest x-rays to Dr Cohen to be examined.

His tests found a number of potential black lung cases that Australian doctors had missed.

Dr Cohen said he believed expanding the inquiry to cover coal port workers also made sense.

He said although port workers were not exposed to the same amount of dust as underground workers they could still be at risk of the disease.

Dr Cohen spoke to the media alongside Mackay black lung victim Steve Mellor and Ipswich victim Percy Verrell.

Mr Verrell said a lifetime spent underground had left him barely able to walk and regularly coughing up blood.

"If I'd have been told this would happen to me I never would have worked in a coal mine," he said.

Mr Mellor, who began coal mining in 2002, said he was never spoken to about the risk of black lung when working underground.

On Wednesday Dr Cohen will give evidence to the Queensland Parliamentary inquiry into black lung.