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Man with terminal silicosis calls for mandatory lung testing



A man who has been given three years to live after he was exposed to toxic silica dust is calling for mandatory nationwide lung testing on all construction sites.

Ivan De Cleene, from Melbourne's east, has been working in the industry for decades.

The 65-year-old was diagnosed with the lung disease silicosis back in 2020 after breathing in unsafe levels of silica and dust at work.

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De Cleene describes himself as being "fit and healthy" before his diagnosis, but now finds himself with just a 30 per cent lung capacity.

He says he now struggles to get through simple tasks or even do the things he loves, like playing the bagpipes.

He even once performed for the Queen

"I used to play for (up to) 40 minutes at a time and now I can get a couple of tunes out if I'm lucky," De Cleene said.

"Walking down the street is a struggle, I need to stop to catch my breath and it's only 100 metres down the street.

"I can also wake up gasping for air some mornings."

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De Cleene says he was never told silica was dangerous or that it would make him sick.

"You're just shattered you can't live a normal life anymore," he said.

Silica is found in sand, stone, concrete and mortar and is used to make products like engineered stone for kitchen benchtops.

While stonemasons face the largest exposure to the mineral, workers in the demolition and construction industries are also at risk

"This is a preventable disease, we've known about it for decades, if not more than that," Slater and Gordon lawyer Barakat Rezaie said.

"But still we see employers not taking it as serious as they should and I think it's time for the government to step in."

Together with his lawyer, De Cleene is calling for nationwide lung testing for all employees exposed to silica dust.

They also want fit-tested personal protective equipment to be provided.

"I can't help myself anymore. The doctors can't," De Cleene said.

"But if anyone can avoid getting it as bad as I've got it, that's better."

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