Former South African Miners Sue Over Lung Disease

The retired miners say that mining company Anglo American should have done more to protect them.

Posted: 09/26/2011 03:32 PM EDT
Filed Under South Africa

South African miners sue for health problems

Hundreds of Black South African miners have banded together to bring a lawsuit against South African mining giant Anglo American for health problems, allegedly stemming from excessive dust found in the company's gold mines.

The 450 miners allege that they contracted silicosis or silico-tuberculosis, lung diseases caused by silica dust and that increase ones risk of developing tuberculosis.

The group has taken their suit to British court, where their legal team expects a faster outcome.

The miners all worked for the company during South Africa’s brutal apartheid, when safety requirements were not as strict as today. Some say if the miners are successful, South African mining companies could be hit with a flood of lawsuits from former employees from the apartheid era.  

However, the miners’ problems aren’t just indicators of past problems in the mines. In 2004, a study estimated that the prevalence of silica dust-related lung diseases was as prevalent as 19 percent and a 2011 study concluded that there are still “clear gaps between research, policy and implementation in occupational health practice in the South African mining industry.”

Anglo American has denied any liability for the miners’ claims.

"Anglo American does not believe that it is any way liable for the silicosis claims brought by former gold workers and is defending the actions," company spokesman James Wyatt-Tilby said in a statement according to the Associated Press. "Anglo American maintains that these gold companies which employed the mineworkers were responsible for the health and safety of their employees and took reasonable steps to protect them."

(Photo: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko)