Dying miners visit Beijing to seek help

09:19, December 22, 2010      

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Shang Zhifa, a 41-year-old pneumoconiosis patient, holds the X-ray of his lungs at his home in the city of Jiuquan, Gansu Province, earlier this year. Photo: Courtesy of Huo Xingcai

Three miners from Gansu Province, suffering from black lung disease, have traveled to Beijing to seek desperate medical assistance and compensation from their former employer.

"I am dying. I'm struggling to breathe and my cough is worsening," Zhou Junshan, 38, from Gulang county in Gansu, told the Global Times Tuesday. He said he was representing a group of 129 of his co-workers, of which five have died from lung conditions.

Zhou has claimed that hundreds of workers were employed at a gold mine in his home town between 1985 to 2005. The first symptoms of illness appeared in 2002, but a formal link was not made to their work until 2009, by which time five of his colleagues had died from pneumoconiosis.

"I was sentenced to death by the black lung," Li Fajin, 47, another patient, told the Global Times. "I have needed to be put on oxygen at times," he said, adding that he was too weak to even lift a coat now.

The China Economic Times tackled the subject in January, which prompted the local Center for Disease Control and Prevention to organize medical check-ups for 408 miners in February.

"The results showed that 129 suffered from work-related pneumoconiosis. But no employers at the mining company were held responsible," Zhou said.

Since May, each gold miner in Gulang county has received a 71 yuan ($10.40) monthly living allowance provided by the local government, and the health department has promised to cover all lung disease treatments for the miners, Zhou said.

However, the deaths of their five colleagues has worsened the fears that the miners still suffer from, ac-cording to Zhou.

"We appreciate the local government's decision to subsidize us. But we still deserve compensation from the mine owners," Zhou said.

According to the China Economic Times, the workers were equipped with only very simple protection by the management.

"The dust was so thick that visibility was not more than one meter in the gold mine shaft," Zhou recalled. "The only protection measure was a thin mask."

However, the gold mine owner denied any responsibility Tuesday.

"Most workers smoke heavily. Furthermore, either during their work at our mine, or before or after, they worked for coal mines, which I believe were the main contributors to the disease," Ma Jianxin, a former official of the gold mine, told the Global Times.

By Huang Jingjing and An Baijie, Global Times
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