Monday, October 15, 2007

China and Coal Deaths

Seems like every time you look at the paper you read about another coal mining accident in China. My favorite story lately was the two brothers who tunneled out of a collapsed mine and were forced to eat coal and drink urine during the nearly six-day ordeal. (As far as I know you can't digest coal, so my theory is that the coal allowed them to drink their urine, by neutralizing the toxins in it.)

Official statistics suggest that since the Communist party took control in 1949, 250,000 people have died in China's mines; this year alone more than 2,000 have perished.

As such firms grow at the expense of shadier operators, the human toll is falling dramatically: in the 1950s an average of 70,000 people died each year in coal mines, compared with 40,000 in the 1980s, 10,000 in the 1990s and roughly 6,000 since 2000, says Mr Tu.
Good to see that the number of coal mining deaths is going down, but that still pales in comparison to those killed by coal air pollution.
The World Health Organization found that China suffered more deaths from water-related pollutants and fewer from bad air, but agreed with the World Bank that the total death toll had reached 750,000 a year. In comparison, 4,700 people died last year in China’s notoriously unsafe mines, and 89,000 people were killed in road accidents, the highest number of automobile-related deaths in the world. The Ministry of Health estimates that cigarette smoking takes a million Chinese lives each year.

An internal, unpublicized report by the Chinese Academy of Environmental Planning in 2003 estimated that 300,000 people die each year from ambient air pollution, mostly of heart disease and lung cancer. An additional 110,000 deaths could be attributed to indoor air pollution caused by poorly ventilated coal and wood stoves or toxic fumes from shoddy construction materials, said a person involved in that study.
While trapped miners might get all of the media attention, the pollution caused by coal kills 100 times more people. Greater safety in the mines is important, but more lives can be saved by focusing on reducing pollution from burning coal.

via NY Times and The Economist


John Ninness said...

I concur with some of your comments regarding the China Mining Industry however you must understand that the fatalities are simply the tip of the iceberg in terms of human damage. More than 600000 cases of coal workers pnuemoconiosis have been reported in China (growing at an alarming rate of 10% per annum), hundreds of thousands of families have there loved ones mamed or injured through other causes.

This is a difficult situation for China's leaders...balancing growth is not easy. The country needs energy now to move into the 21st century and there is an abundance of coal. While I can never support the loss of life through coal mining, the issues are complex for China.

Fat Knowledge said...


Good point about pneumoconiosis and additional human damage from coal.

And I agree with you about the complexities of China. A while back the NY Times had an article where they were interviewing a couple who had moved from the countryside to a nicer house thanks to the wages provided by a coal mining job. They were happy about the change even though their health was taking a beating. If the Chinese people are aware of the tradeoffs and are willing to still use coal, then who are we to tell them otherwise? But, hopefully they will get rich enough soon to decide that the environmental and health impacts are no longer worth it.

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