05/01/2007, 00.00
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Lung disease deadlier than mining accidents

More than 600,000 pneumoconiosis cases have been diagnosed as of 2005 with 140,000 people dead and many more disabled. Poor working conditions are the main cause, including in legal mines. Two lives are lost for every million tonnes of coal produced.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – At least 10,000 new cases of pneumoconiosis are diagnosed each year in China, above all among miners. Unlike pit accidents this disease kills slowly.

Official figures show one pneumoconiosis patient in every 3,000 people nationwide, one in 1,000 in Shanxi province.

Pneumoconiosis is an occupational lung disease caused by the inhalation of coal dust which settles in the lungs, causing death or permanent disability.

Official figures show that a total of 607,570 cases were recorded until 2005, 140,000 of whom died from the disease and the rest were left permanently disabled.

The disease has no cure but China has developed a lung lavage treatment to relieve the suffering but so far only 3,000 patients have received the treatment which costs 8-10,000 yuan (more than US$ 1,000), the equivalent of an annual salary.

Official figures only take into account cases reported by hospitals, which leaves many more cases unaccounted for, a number that is probably high because only half of all miners in legal mines undergo health check-ups, whilst the total number of workers hired by illegal operators cannot be estimated. Inspectors have also found that in legal mines dust concentration levels far exceed safety levels

For He Guojia, deputy director of the China Coal Information Institute at the State Work Safety Administration, the disease is the most serious and common vocational disease in China and its rate is likely to rise.

Speaking at a conference on vocational diseases co-hosted by the Administration and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) yesterday, Mr He noted that since many miners fall ill only after they leave work to return home, they can hardly seek compensation or treatment from their employers.

“Mass protests sparked by pneumoconiosis are on an upward trend and may affect social stability,” he warned.

Pneumoconiosis is particularly high among rural migrants. A government survey showed that 4.74 per cent of rural migrants working in state coal mines suffered the disease, Mr He said.

Some had contracted the disease only after mining for 1 1/2 years.

The net result is that about two lives are lost for every million tonnes of coal produced.

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