Thursday, February 7, 2013

Silicosis suit could crush S.Africa’s gold mining sector

Source: Agence France-Presse

Thousands of ex-gold miners suffering from silicosis have launched a class action suit in South Africa, in what could prove the final nail in the coffin of the country’s battered but vital mining sector.

Already buckling under huge operational costs and seemingly endless labour unrest, some 30 gold mine operators were last month slapped with litigation by thousands of their former employees.

The plaintiffs - mostly black migrant labourers from nearby countries and South Africa’s far flung mountainous villages of the Eastern Cape region - allegedly contracted the lung disease while drilling gold bearing rocks.

Already theirs is the biggest class action in South Africa’s legal history, involving more than 17,000 complainants.

And the list is growing by around 500 people each month, according to lead attorney Richard Spoor.

That stream could very well become a torrent.

Academic calculations estimate some 280,000 people have worked in gold mines for a minimum of 10 years, long enough to inhale dangerous levels of silica dust.

When exposed for long to excessive amounts, the dust gets locked in the lungs and permanently scars the organ, resulting in silicosis, a disease that has no known cure.

Symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pains and persistent cough. Sufferers are more susceptible to other lung diseases like tuberculosis.

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