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Last Updated: Monday, 30 April 2007, 12:18 GMT 13:18 UK
China miners risk deadly disease
Chinese rescue workers prepare to search for trapped miners in Zhuzhou, Hunan province - 17 April 2007
China's mining industry has a controversial record
Thousands of miners and cement workers in China are dying each year from breathing in coal and cement dust, state media reports.

The lung disease known as "black lung" or pneumoconiosis accounts for three quarters of all occupational deaths, health officials said.

China's coal mines are the most deadly in the world.

An average of 17 miners are killed in mining accidents each day, the official People's Daily newspaper reports.

Independent labour groups believe the death toll is much higher.

Human cost

Of 677,000 occupational disease cases reported in China since the 1950s, more than 90% were pneumoconiosis cases, health ministry spokesperson Su Zhi said.

Last year alone, the black lung disease accounted for 76% of the 11,000 new occupational disease cases reported.

"The proportion of pneumoconiosis cases was 1.44 percentage points higher than in 2005, and the latency period of the disease was shorter," he was quoted by the People's Daily as saying.

He also said that 621 of the pneumoconiosis cases reported last year involved workers under the age of 18.

The latest health figures highlight the human cost of China's rapid industrial growth.

China's government has been trying for years to improve safety in the coal industry, and last year pledged to close all small mines, which often have the worst safety record.

But progress towards improving safety standards has been hampered by the huge demand for coal, which provides more than two-thirds of China's electricity.

The health ministry has vowed to strengthen efforts to bring millions of migrant workers - often the most at risk of occupational diseases - into the health care network, the People's Daily reports.

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