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The Hidden Tolls of Coal Mining

Coal Miners in China (Image: China Digital Times)

Coal Miners in China (Image: China Digital Times)

by Ariella Tai

The Asia Society’s China Green feature “Black Lungs: The Hidden Tolls of Coal Mining” discusses the high environmental and human costs of coal mining in China. Although the ecological risks of coal mining and consumption are widely known, this feature explores the human cost of mining in more depth.

Featured on the site is a clip from Faraway Mountain, independent documentary filmmaker Hu Jie’s film on the living conditions of coal miners in a northern Chinese village. These so-called “cave-cats” spend over 12 hours a day in the mines for the equivalent of less than 600 USD per month, with little to no protection from the fumes and dust. One miner interviewed compares mining to battle, observing that:

“Mining coal is like going to war- three or four deaths a day. But if a fire explosion happens, bam! Suddenly thousands of people and the entire mine is wiped out!”

But more dangerous even than the risk of getting crushed by machinery or buried alive by mine collapses, is the fatal “Black Lung” disease- contracted by breathing fumes of kerosene and coal dust. Although the government does allot funds to cover treatment for those afflicted with Black Lung, patients who are “too far advanced,” too old, or who contracted the disease working in an illegal mine are not eligible for treatment, and even the lung-flushing procedures funded by the government are only able to alleviate symptoms of the disease, rather than cure.

According to official Chinese statistics, “Since 1949 over a quarter million people have died from coal mining”

Visit Asia Society’s China Green feature here.


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