These photos taken from 2013 to 2015 show a coal mining town located in northeast China in Haizhou District of Fuxin city, Liaoning province.
The first images, from February 2013, show the dusty emissions produced by a power plant south of the city, and a steam train that carries away waste ashes to be disposed of on the hillsides. Smog blankets the city that workers call home.
Due to the depletion of coal resources in the region, the industry faces a difficult restructuring period and workers like train driver Zhang Mingzhe are unsure about their future.
The mountain of waste ashes, which is burning hot from the power plant furnace, gets blown up into the air by the wind. Standing amid a cloud of dust, Wang Jianhua has worked in the city’s coal mining industry since he was 24 years old. Now he is 53 and says he has grown used to the thick, grey smoke of his work environment.
Although the workers toil everyday for 12 hours in day and night shifts, they manage to find time for keeping a diary.
Two years later, in April 2015, Wang’s life hasn’t changed much. Although the environment remains terrible for the workers, the city is managing to improve conditions by attaching greater importance to environmental protection and reducing emissions.
The ash is now treated with a spray that stops it from blowing up in the breeze and forming clouds of dust in the air. Experts believe that there is hope that the city can recover.
For some areas though, it is already too late. Long-term pollution has resulted in critical levels of soil erosion making the land too harsh to live on. Villagers living near Wulong Mine have already made their escape, leaving behind a barren wasteland that’s nearly uninhabited.
A 58-year-old sheep herder, Fu Wanfu, is the only villager left living at the foot of the mine. Fu and his father moved to the area 38 years ago from nearby Shandong province.
Earlier in 2015, Fu developed a cough that has persisted daily and although he needs to go to the hospital, he is too poor to do so. His wife has already passed away and now his son works in the ash fields. They had the chance to escape with the others 8 years ago, but Fu insisted on staying to look after his sheep. Now, he will have to wait for more than a year before he can sell off enough sheep to pay for medical treatment.
It is so dusty in Fu’s home that all the food must be covered with plastic bags to prevent it from turning grey with dirt.
In spring, the birds fly very low to avoid the worst of the smoke billowing out of the power plant. People venture out into the smog wearing heavy masks.
In the “2014 China Environmental Bulletin,” the Ministry of Environmental Protection declared that 145 out of 161 cities monitored failed to meet new air quality standards. The people of Haizhou are not the only ones living in such harsh conditions.
At the beginning of this year Chai Jing’s air pollution documentary “Under the Dome” exposed many issues related to China’s coal mining industry. Shortly after its release it was censored due to its widespread popularity.
by Daniel Cunningham
[Images via Tencent]