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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6 Responses to “The Hidden Tolls of Coal Mining”

  1. Paul Roberts says:

    It’s so sad to know that there are people who risk their lives in order to earn. Coal mining is growing big in China, so it’s no longer a surprise if there are lives at risk. Though such problem does not only takes place in China for it also happens to other countries especially those in the “3rd world”.

  2. Sandy says:

    People who say nuclear power is “far too dangerous” really should understand the risks and fatalities that occur during the mining of coal.

    Of course, Western governments find it easy to ignore the plight of chines miners when discussing the merits of which kind of fuel should be allocated government funding but this highlights just how poor the conditions are in China. Very worrying indeed.

    blogger at Paslode framing nailer

  3. @Paul – I agree with you. These people risk their lives to earn money which is not even enough for their family. This usually happens in poor countries where there are no enough jobs that the government can provide. I think it’s time for the government of every country to strengthen the law and guidelines for coal mining to prevent future casualties.

  4. Nicole says:

    @ Paul

    You’re right about this not just happening in China. Mining (not just coal) happens in many 3rd world countries and a lot of casualties come about because if this. There are stories of miners who get trapped alive and just die there.

    Marketing Rep

  5. Stewart says:

    It is so terrible when knowing the risk of becoming coal miners. Paying attention to the safety of coal miners is important. For getting money, they have to live at risk.

  6. Adam says:

    It is sad to read about the effects of all those years in the coal mines with little protection for the miners lungs. The world needs to work hard at developing green energy sources that can alleviate some of this suffering.

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