Miner: ‘I think I’ve got black lung’

LES Richter has been diagnosed with emphysema, but in light of the re-emergence of black lung disease in Queensland, he's wondering if his diagnosis is quite right.

The 69-year-old Ooralea man started working in Ipswich mines about 47 years ago.

Since then, he's worked as a plant operator and dragline operator in mostly open-cut coal mines at Blackwater, Biloela and Dysart.

In the 1990s Mr Richter's lung health declined. His doctor told him he'd never work again and Mr Richter received a worker's compensation payout from his employer.

About 10 years later he had to undergo a lung reduction; 70% of his right lung and 30% of his left lung was removed.

The doctor's prediction wasn't completely true - Mr Richter has been able to do some mining contracting work since and hopes to obtain mining work in the future.

But lung disease has made life a lot more difficult.

"I still can drive machinery, but I've got to take my time. I can't move around as fast as I'd like to," he said.

"I can't do things I want to do because of my lung capacity. My lungs are deteriorating. I'm not getting any better, simple as that."

Mr Richter, who has "never been a big smoker" and hasn't touched a cigarette in more than 40 years, believes he has black lung.

Nine Queensland coal miners have been confirmed with the illness since the first case emerged publicly in December last year.

So far all of those diagnosed have worked mostly underground.

But speaking to APN in January, Professor Malcolm Sim, who's heading the State Government-commissioned review into black lung screening, said open-cut miners were also at risk of contracting the disease.

"It really depends on the level of dust exposure and there are some high risk jobs in that part of the industry as well," he said.

And Mr Richter doesn't doubt that his exposure to dust has contributed to, if not been responsible for his ill health.

"You can see at night time, in the open-cuts, you can see the dust coming up from the light… even in the draglines, (you can see) the dust in the draglines," he said.

Mr Richter said he suspects former colleagues may have had, but never been diagnosed with, black lung. "I know a lot of blokes from (the mines) who have died in the past 12, 18 months," he said.

"They've had cancer. Now, what's it all caused from? That's what's starting to worry everyone.

"They only buried a bloke the other day who had cancer and he was in the mines most of his life."

Mr Richter is now looking to get his x-rays checked to confirm whether he has the disease.

As for lung problems, he's worried that "a lot of people are going to be in the same boat shortly".


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