A shocking reminder of the health impacts of coal

Strip_coal_miningIt’s a shocking story that’s slowly emerging. Up to 1,000 current and former Queensland coal mine workers could be affected by pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease, and it’s possible that authorities and coal mining companies have tried to cover up the extent of this health disaster.

Black lung is caused by long-term inhalation of coal dust, and in severe cases, can be fatal. The coal miners’ union estimates that up to 16 per cent of current and retired coal workers may be affected.

The combustion of coal for energy is a key driver of climate change. Additionally, the negative impacts that coal mining has on our air, land and water can also be hard to stomach, and this is a case in point. The workers affected and at risk of black lung need protection and we’re glad to see this campaign from the CFMEU, calling for better testing and protecting those at risk of developing black lung disease: www.cfmeu.com.au/campaigns/national/make-black-lung-history

We’re also concerned about the long term. When we and other groups refer to the health impacts of coal, this is what we mean, and the only way to avoid these risks long term is to phase out of coal.

At the forefront of this tragedy, standing with the miners and their families are the health workers. And yet, it is likely that through their superannuation, these same health workers are invested in the coal mining companies whose activities have resulted in the spread of Black Lung disease.

If you haven’t done so recently, please take a moment to contact the health industry super funds HESTA, First State Super, QSuper or State Super, and let them know that you don’t want to be financially exposed to an industry driving so much environmental and human health harm. You can contact your fund by looking them up on Super Switch and clicking the button, calling on them to divest. Take action at www.superswitch.org.au

This news saddens us all, but particularly the workers, their families, and the health workers treating the victims. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There is a path forward, and it starts with divesting from coal and investing in a just transition for the workers and communities affected as we shift away from fossil fuels.