Thoracic health experts are calling for urgent action to protect young tradesmen from developing silicosis, a lung disease that has re-emerged in Australia.
Young tradesmen frequently exposed to dusts generated from stone products, commonly used in kitchen and bathroom benchtops, are being warned they may be at risk of another lung disease making a comeback in Australia.
The alert has been issued ahead of the Asian Pacific Society of Respirology (APSR) Congress 2017, where international and national experts will be told of a spike of new silicosis cases across the country.
According to the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand, silicosis - similar to black lung - is just one of a number of occupational lung diseases that has re-emerged.
"This resurgence in occupational lung diseases should have clinicians, tradespeople and industry on alert. These are diseases we thought had almost been eradicated, but thanks to exposure to high levels of dust and poor control measures they're resurfacing," said Professor Allan Glanville, President of the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand.
What is of particular concern to the society is the age of workers being diagnosed and the speed at which the disease progresses, leading to calls for urgent action.
"To make matters worse, the disease progression is much faster than we've seen before, and the people affected much younger. We need a national response," said Prof Glanville.
Pneumoconioses, which include silicosis and black lung diseases, are progressive, irreversible and sometimes fatal lung diseases caused by prolonged exposure to respirable crystalline silica, quartz and coal dusts.
There is no known treatment or cure, but they can be prevented.
Occupational lung disease specialist Dr Ryan Hoy says he's aware of seven new cases of silicosis diagnosed in the last five years, caused by work with artificial stone across NSW, Queensland and Victoria, six of which have advanced disease, known as progressive massive fibrosis.
According to Dr Hoy, all were employed in small businesses involved in kitchen and bathroom benchtop fabrication, says Dr Hoy.
In 2015, an Ipswich man became the first Australian to be diagnosed with black lung - formally known as Coal Workers Pneumoconiosis - and dozens more have followed since.
To date, there have been 54 cases of Coal Workers' Pneumoconiosis described in Queensland.