WORKERS who dug Brisbane's underground road network might face the next undiagnosed public health crisis, as a world expert flagged concerns for their wellbeing.
MPs were shocked to hear from Dr Robert Cohen at a parliamentary inquiry into coal workers' pneumoconiosis yesterday, where he predicted "hundreds or thousands" of Queensland's 30,000 coal miners unknowingly had the potentially fatal disease, rather than the 20 diagnosed.
But the committee was left reeling when Dr Cohen insisted silicosis testing should be done on workers on Brisbane's Legacy Way and Airport Link, describing silicone exposure as "probably more dangerous" than coal dust.
Chairwoman Jo-Ann Miller said the committee would now discuss whether a separate inquiry should be held into the health of tunnel workers ahead of underground rail lines being bored for the Cross River Rail.
Asked by Ms Miller if tunnel workers should have mandated health checks, the lung disease expert said: "I hope you don't meant to tell me that they're not tested for silicosis."
The hearing heard from a CFMEU official that silicone levels in some tunnels were 10 times higher than allowable levels in coal mines.
A spokesman for the Office of Industrial Relations said companies had to conduct standardised respiratory function tests and chest X-rays for people working around airborne silica.
But the hearing heard a raft of criticisms around testing of coal workers, including that those charged with taking and reading X-rays were not sufficiently trained.
Dr Cohen criticised Queensland authorities' lack of competent monitoring of miners, who had been exposed to coal dust at far higher rates than what was legal in the US.
He said it "beggars the imagination" that authorities insisted for 30 years that black lung did not exist in Queensland when it did in other nations.
Dr Cohen, who has been drafted by the Queensland Government to check 3000 X-rays from coal workers, said one in five were not readable.
Some X-rays had part of the lung chopped off and were unusable, leading to workers having to be again exposed to radiation.
Dr Coen recommended specialist black lung clinics be set up to provide screening, evaluation and treatment, which should include mobile vans sent into mining communities.
Former coal worker Steve Mellor told the inquiry he was only told he had pneumoconiosis four years after his X-ray was taken.
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