“Were they left to their own devices and die a terrible death without any help from the companies that exposed them to the hazard?”

– Jason Hill, coal miners’ union (CFMEU) safety and health officer

It’s a shocking story that’s slowly emerging. Up to 1,000 current and former Queensland coal mine workers could be affected by┬ápneumoconiosis, 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.

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 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.

All the major health industry super funds (HESTA, First State Super, QSuper and State Super) invest in coal. Whether you are with one of these funds or any other, you can contact your fund by looking them up on Super Switch and clicking the button calling on them to divest. Let them know that you don’t want to be financially exposed to an industry driving so much environmental and human health harm.

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.