Lung disease kills far more miners than accidents do

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 November, 2010, 12:00am

A national work-safety conference issued a dire warning yesterday about occupational lung disease in the mainland's mining industry, which kills three times the number of miners who die in accidents each year.

More than 2,700 miners died in coal-mine accidents last year, which means that about 8,000 others would have died from pneumoconiosis, also called black lung disease.

Xinhua said it accounted for more than 40 per cent of all occupational diseases on the mainland.

Zhang Ming, deputy chairman of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, said 14,495 new cases of black lung disease were reported last year. But Xinhua said the number of undetected sufferers was believed to be much higher.

In Xinjiang , more than 60 miners with black lung disease were sent to a hospital in the autonomous region's capital, Urumqi , to have a lung-wash treatment last month, with up to 48 bottles of black water being washed from the lungs of one miner, Long Huaiwen, the Guangzhou-based news website reported yesterday.

'I can't believe it because I haven't been mining since 2004, after suffering from earlier symptoms of black lung,' 51-year-old Long said.

He said he had worked underground as a miner for 16 years, and asked to be transferred to duty as a security officer in 2004. But the new job still meant he had to stay close to dusty pits.

Compared to 42-year-old Zou Desen, Long is lucky. Zou is suffering from black lung disease and declining lung function, which means he is not a suitable candidate for lung-wash treatment even though his breathing is deteriorating day by day.

Black lung is an untreatable disease. The only effective measure to ease the situation is using medical equipment to wash dust from workers' lungs. With each procedure costing up to 12,000 yuan (HK$13,902), many coal miners have been abandoned by small- and medium-scale coal mines after showing symptoms.

The general manager of the company that employs Zou and Long, Jiang Xuhong, said it planned to spend nearly 1 million yuan a year to clean up workers' lungs.

Dayoo cited a Health Ministry official as saying that miners with black lung disease should have lung-wash treatments regularly if they were still working in a dusty atmosphere, but that only a very few employers were willing to take on the responsibility.

Xinhua quoted Zhang Baoming, president of the China Association of Occupational Safety and Health, as saying that some mainland coal mines had improved their dust-proof equipment in recent years, but others were still unaware of the need to prevent lung disease.

'Our work in preventing occupational disease in the coal industry is very difficult amid the rapid increase of demand for coal in our country, where production has increased year after year,' Zhang said.