Coal dust casts a pall over children’s health in Pakistan (2022)

Dark grey dust hangs in the dry morning air as children play barefoot outside their mud-brick houses in Duki, a mineral-rich district in southwestern Balochistan.

Duki lies around 230km from Quetta. Families hailing from as far away as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and neighbouring Afghanistan call these coalfields home, despite the serious public health threat posed by dust emissions from coal mining.

“My family is breathing in coal dust and black smoke, but I have no other option except to live in the coal field. A large number of local children can be seen visiting the hospital, suffering from pulmonary diseases,” says Atta Muhammad, one of hundreds of coal miners who live hand-to-mouth with their families on the outskirts of Duki.

He is a father of seven; four of his children are suffering from chest infections and he frequently visits the local hospital to get them treated.

Children’s health is the collateral damage for Pakistan’s coal

Coal dust casts a pall over children’s health in Pakistan (1)

Called “black gold” by locals, the coal is used in factories, brick kilns and the energy sectors in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The collateral damage of this way of earning is that the children of these colliers are miserable, and the air they breathe is toxic. The prevalence of asthma and other respiratory symptoms in children living near the opencast coal mining sites is high.

According to local health practitioners, children are suffering from breathing problems and chest infections due to inhaled coal dust.

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About 50 per cent of Pakistan’s coal is produced in mineral-rich Balochistan, and coal mining is a source of revenue for the province.

Amber Khan Yousafzai, the provincial vice president of the National Labour Federation trade union, says 15,000 to 20,000 labourers work in the Duki and Chamalang coal mines, many of which are unregulated, and about 5,000 to 6,000 families live near the hundreds of mines. The Chamalang mines are some of the largest in the region.

Coal dust casts a pall over children’s health in Pakistan (2)

Sixty-year-old Abdul Rehman worked in the coal industry for 26 years, but became unable to dig in deep mines after developing asthma.

He sought out an alternative career and now sells boots and slippers in the Duki bazaar.

“I am the father of eight children. My five- and nine-year-olds have respiratory illnesses. I have to make do with very basic treatment from local doctors. Only one of my children goes to school,” he says, while using a blue inhaler.

Mining companies fail to do their duty, locals say

Noor Bibi, a mother of three from Duki district, has had a similar experience. Her husband was in the mining industry for almost 13 years, but is no longer able to work.

Her two children between the ages of seven and nine have been suffering from lung disease for the past couple of years. Instead of going to school, her children spend all day looking for pieces of coal in the slag heaps near the mines, to bring home to burn.

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“The whole area is full of smoke and dust. There is no rain either. The mine owners do not help the poor workers. I am just worried about the health and dark future of my children,” Bibi says, wiping tears from her cheeks.

Coal dust casts a pall over children’s health in Pakistan (3)

The children of labourers fall ill due to a lack of health facilities, says Yousafzai, the trade union vice president.

“The government should make the health centres fully functional, keeping in mind the health and education of children. A paediatrician should also be appointed for coal miners’ children. The daily-wage miners earn a meagre amount, which is why they cannot afford proper treatment for their children.”

The Mines Labour Welfare Organization branch of the Mines and Minerals Development Department Balochistan is responsible for the welfare of mine workers, including their children’s education and health, under the Mines Act, 1923.

However, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan points out that “onsite healthcare is the exception rather than the norm”.

Speaking to The Third Pole, Sabir Shah, mines inspector at the Duki coalfield, says that under the Coal Mines Regulations 1926 and Mines Act 1923, a child below the age of 18 cannot work as a labourer in the mining area, whether it is underground, surface work or coal loading.

“If someone is found violating the act, a mines inspector after the inspection files a case and submits it through the Chief Mines Inspector at the judicial magistrate office, where a fine is imposed as per the law,” says Shah.

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Shah says that the labour wing of the mines department has insured health facilities at all mining areas, where both mine labourers and their family members, including children suffering from chest ailments, are treated.

Locals, though, tell a different story. “We live in an area that is surrounded by coal mines. There is black smoke as people burn coal in their houses for cooking and heating purposes. The majority of the children in our village are affected, as is my son,” says Muhammad Arif, who runs a tyre repair shop in Duki, adding that the workers who live here can neither afford rented houses in the city, nor can get their sick children get treated at the bigger hospitals in Quetta.

Tuberculosis and asthma high in residents

Muhammad Azeem, a doctor and the facilitator of the directly observed treatment, short-course (DOTS) tuberculosis (TB) control programme in Duki, says most of the coal miners suffer from TB, which spreads to other family members as it is a bacterial infection.

Children brought up in coal dust are exposed to pollution and have more respiratory symptoms compared with children in other areas of the district. “Most of the patients are minors. Poverty, poor hygienic living conditions and little access to health facilities are contributing factors for the spread of TB in the area,” Azeem explains.

“Globally, the incidence of TB in coal miners is 10 times higher than in the general population,” says Ahmad Wali, another doctor and an official at the provincial TB control programme in Quetta.

“The high concentration of coal dust in Balochistan’s coalfields as a result of an ineffective and unmonitored application of environmental laws and the lack of protective measures adopted by coal miners and mine owners make it even worse.”

The TB control programme for Balochistan has a care facility in DHQ Hospital Duki, but the number of those in need of treatment far exceed the facilities available, Wali says.

“Seventy to eighty patients are being examined on a daily basis at the hospital’s out-patient department; half of them are children,” Azeem confirms. “Thirty out of fourty children are usually suffering from chest infections, asthma and allergies.”

Coal dust casts a pall over children’s health in Pakistan (4)
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Coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP), also known as black lung disease, is common among miners’ children.

“CWP and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are two lung disorders caused by exposure to coal-mine dust. Coal miners are also exposed to crystalline silica dust, which causes diseases such as silicosis,” says Wali.

Waqar Ahmed, an assistant professor at the Institute of Environmental Studies at the University of Karachi, says that when a child breathes in the dust-laden air, it affects their respiratory system and causes allergies.

“Children are more vulnerable because their air passages are smaller than adults’, so can get choked as a result of inflammation.”

No environmental impact assessment

Sheikh Khaliq Dad Mandokhail, an assistant director of the provincial environment department in Quetta, says that, unfortunately, there is no environmental impact assessment set-up in the Duki area.

“In case of any environment-related issue, I usually visit the coalfield area. A water sprinkling system in the workplace to control the dust is needed. In case of violation of environmental protocols, the NOC [no-objection certificate, a legal document to prove a project is authorised] provided to the mine owners can be cancelled.”

Even though Pakistan is one of the signatories of the Paris Climate Agreement, which aims to limit global warming, coal mining is likely to continue for some time, says Danish Rashdi, programme head in Karachi for the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

“In Pakistan, coal power plants are in trend, given our massive needs for energy. For the time being, it seems, our reliance on coal power plants will continue till the private sector takes on the mission of decarbonisation and starts compensating for the impacts of coal, and finally moving towards clean energy in the long run.”

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This article originally appeared in The Third Pole on July 25 and has been reproduced with permission.

FAQs

What health effects are associated with coal dust? ›

Exposure to coal mine dust causes various pulmonary diseases, including coal workers' pneumoconiosis (CWP) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). 2. Coal miners are also exposed to crystalline silica dust, which causes silicosis, COPD, and other diseases.

Which respiratory diseases are caused by dust pollution from mines? ›

Pneumoconioses (meaning dusty lung) can cause impairment, disability and premature death. The two main types of pneumoconioses that affect miners are coal workers' pneumoconiosis (CWP) and silicosis. CWP, commonly called black lung, affects workers in coal mining.

What is the size of coal dust? ›

Coal dust generally comprises a small component of total dust present in air near coal mines, railways and coal export terminals. Nevertheless, coal dust emissions can affect amenity, and predominantly comprises coarse dust particles (dustfall) of particle size generally between 50 and 200 microns in diameter.

Does coal mining cause black lung disease? ›

Coal workers' pneumoconiosis (CWP), commonly known as "black lung disease," occurs when coal dust is inhaled. Over time, continued exposure to the coal dust causes scarring in the lungs, impairing your ability to breathe. Considered an occupational lung disease, it is most common among coal miners.

What are the causes of coal? ›

Coal is formed when dead plant matter submerged in swamp environments is subjected to the geological forces of heat and pressure over hundreds of millions of years. Over time, the plant matter transforms from moist, low-carbon peat, to coal, an energy- and carbon-dense black or brownish-black sedimentary rock.

What is the risk of dust? ›

Exposure to dust can cause irritation to the eyes, skin and respiratory tract, and prolonged exposure can lead to a range of serious lung diseases including silicosis, coal workers' pneumoconiosis (CWP), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer.

What are the harmful effects of coal mining on human health and environment? ›

A coal mine produces lots of dust which if inhaled, can lead to the black lung disease among the miners and other people living within the surrounding region. Due to blasting and drilling, the fine mineral particles of dust are inhaled and accumulate in the lung causing pneumoconiosis.

What type of hazard is harmful dust? ›

High exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust causes silicosis, a lung disease that can lead to serious breathing difficulties, lung cancer and loss of life. There are three types of silicosis, namely – chronic silicosis accelerated silicosis and acute silicosis.

Can you be allergic to coal dust? ›

When fine particles of coal dust that are 10 times smaller than pollens are breathed in, people get more asthma, allergies and respiratory disease.

What Colour is coal dust? ›

As coal dust is black in colour, it is generally highly visible. It is these dark visible dust particles that can cause nuisance due to soiling of property, surfaces and washing.

How do you make coal dust? ›

Coal dust is a fine powdered form of which is created by the crushing, grinding, or pulverizing of coal. Because of the brittle nature of coal, coal dust can be created during mining, transportation, or by mechanically handling coal.

What are the causes of coal dust explosion? ›

Methane explosions occur when a buildup of methane gas contacts a heat source and there is not enough air to dilute the gas level below its explosion point. Likewise, fine particles of coal dust in the right concentration that contact a source of heat can also be explosive.

Do coal miners wear masks? ›

Miners may be required to wear respirators as PPE under certain circumstances. Miners should not wear face masks while wearing a respirator with no exhalation valve, but should wear face masks when the respirator is not worn, or over the respirator exhalation valve when the respirator has an exhalation valve.

Is black lungs curable? ›

There's no treatment for the disease, but doctors can help lessen symptoms. To treat shortness of breath, doctors may prescribe: Oxygen to make breathing easier. Pulmonary rehabilitation (a program to help you learn how to breathe with long-term lung disease)

What is black lung called? ›

Types of pneumoconiosis

One of the most common forms is black lung disease, also known as miner's lung. It's caused by breathing in coal dust. Another is brown lung, which comes from working around dust from cotton or other fibers.

What are the main uses of coal? ›

Coal is primarily used as fuel to generate electric power in the United States. In coal-fired power plants, bituminous coal, subbituminous coal, or lignite is burned. The heat produced by the combustion of the coal is used to convert water into high-pressure steam, which drives a turbine, which produces electricity.

When was coal first used? ›

Coal has been used for heating since the cave man. Archeologists have also found evidence that the Romans in England used it in the second and third centuries (100- 200 AD). In the 1700s, the English found that coal could produce a fuel that burned cleaner and hotter than wood charcoal.

Is coal harmful to the environment? ›

No matter how you label it, coal is always polluting. In fact, it is the most polluting way to produce electricity. When coal is dug up and later burned in power stations, it releases massive amounts of pollution, damaging our health and contributing to intensifying climate change.

What are the sources of dust? ›

Where does dust come from? The natural erosion of soil, sand and rock is the most common source of dust. Pollen, microscopic organisms, plant material and dander (dead skin cells shed by animals) are also part of the dust in the environment.

How many types of dust are there? ›

Dust types are categorised into three classes; L Class (low risk), M Class (medium risk) and H Class (high risk).

How can we control dust pollution? ›

Top Ten Dust Control Techniques
  1. Reduce the traffic.
  2. Reduce the speed.
  3. Improve road design.
  4. Water the road (Palliatives-1)
  5. Cover the Road with gravel.
  6. Increase moisture content of the road surface (Palliatives-2)
  7. Bind the road particles together (Palliatives-3)
  8. Seal unpaved roads.

Is coal harmful to humans? ›

Coal ash, a catchall term for several kinds of waste left over at power plants that burn coal, typically contains a number of substances harmful to human health—arsenic, chromium, lead, and mercury among them. Coal ash is incredibly dangerous.

What are 3 negative effects of coal mining? ›

Emissions from burning coal

Nitrogen oxides (NOx), which contribute to smog and respiratory illnesses. Particulates, which contribute to smog, haze, and respiratory illnesses and lung disease. Carbon dioxide (CO2), which is the primary greenhouse gas produced from burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas)

Where was first coal found? ›

Coal was one of man's earliest sources of heat and light. The Chinese were known to have used it more than 3,000 years ago. The first recorded discovery of coal in this country was by French explorers on the Illinois River in 1679, and the earliest recorded commercial mining occurred near Richmond, Virginia, in 1748.

Does dust affect your brain? ›

Dust and the brain

The health impact of overexposure to dust can also lead to cerebral complications. Studies have indicated that regular inhalation of fine, respirable dust particles can lead to dementia as well as an increase in the risk of strokes.

What happens when you breathe in dust? ›

Particles that evade elimination in the nose or throat tend to settle in the sacs or close to the end of the airways. But if the amount of dust is large, the macrophage system may fail. Dust particles and dust-containing macrophages collect in the lung tissues, causing injury to the lungs.

Is breathing in dust harmful? ›

In some studies, sneezing, coughing, eye irritation, lung tissue swelling, asthma and throat infections were found to be more prevalent among individuals exposed to occupational dust. Moreover, the symptoms associated with impaired lung function may lead to occupational lung diseases (6, 7).

What is the best medicine for dust allergy? ›

Over-the-counter antihistamine tablets, such as fexofenadine (Allegra Allergy), loratadine (Alavert, Claritin,), cetirizine (Zyrtec) and others, as well as antihistamine syrups for children, are available.

Can dust make you cough? ›

A mild case of dust mite allergy may cause an occasional runny nose, watery eyes and sneezing. In severe cases, the condition may be ongoing (chronic), resulting in persistent sneezing, cough, congestion, facial pressure, an eczema flare-up or severe asthma attack.

How do you stop allergies immediately? ›

Try an over-the-counter remedy
  1. Oral antihistamines. Antihistamines can help relieve sneezing, itching, a stuffy or runny nose, and watery eyes. ...
  2. Corticosteroid nasal sprays. These medications improve nasal symptoms. ...
  3. Cromolyn sodium nasal spray. ...
  4. Oral decongestants.

Is coal safe to handle? ›

Coal is safe, inert and has been transported safely for more than 40 years. The International Agency for Research on Cancer does not include coal dust on its list of carcinogenic agents harmful to humans. Each rail car is sprayed with a coating that forms a thin crust on the coal to keep it in place.

Is coal dust flammable? ›

Fine bituminous coal dust is highly explosive when suspended in air. In a typical coal dust explosion, the dust is scoured by a small methane gas explosion, which also provides the initiating flame.

What is coal fine? ›

Fine coal is generally classified as the material having a particle size between 1 and 0.15 mm. A more precise definition of the top size may be the particle size selected as the bottom particle size treated in the small coal circuit.

How do you clean coal dust? ›

A simple solution is to apply Dust Wash at 0.5% to 1% with a 2-3 gpm power washer. Dust Wash is a combination encapsulator agent to capture the coal dust and a foaming agent to lift the dust from the surface. Very little water will be used and the Dust Wash required will be minimal.

What is slack coal used for? ›

Slack 25kg

Quality slack is very fine pieces of coal and is perfect for banking down fires and maintaining burn time overnight. Often used to tame a roaring fire whilst maintaining heat. Suitable for use in both open fires and multi-fuel stoves however bituminous coal should not be burnt in smoke control areas.

How much coal ash is produced each year? ›

The EPA estimates that 140 million tons of coal ash are generated annually.

What is coal powder called? ›

Related Pages. Synonyms & Trade Names. Anthracite coal dust, Bituminous coal dust, Coal mine dust, Lignite coal dust.

Which gas is responsible for explosion in coal mines? ›

Methane (CH4) is the principle combustible gas found in coal mines. What is the explosive range of methane-air mixtures? 5 to 15 percent of methane in air is explosive.

Why is there a high risk of explosion in coal mines? ›

Methane gas is a byproduct of coal. It can build up over time in coal mines when there are not enough other types of gases to dilute it to prevent an explosion. Air can explode when it contains 5 to 15 percent methane. Explosions happen when the methane comes in contact with a heat source.

Can coal dust cause allergies? ›

When fine particles of coal dust that are 10 times smaller than pollens are breathed in, people get more asthma, allergies and respiratory disease.

Is coal dust a safety hazard? ›

Inhalation of respirable coal dust can lead to coal workers' pneumoconiosis (CWP), a potentially disabling lung disease. Inhalation of respirable silica dust can lead to silicosis, another disabling lung disease. The most severe form of these diseases, progressive massive fibrosis (PMF), can be fatal.

Is coal dust corrosive? ›

In addition to mine waters, coal itself has been shown to be corrosive. This is not surprising since graphite is one of the most noble components of the galvanic series. Thus, galvanic corrosion should be expected.

What is the name given to pneumoconiosis caused by exposure to coal dust? ›

Types of pneumoconiosis

One of the most common forms is black lung disease, also known as miner's lung. It's caused by breathing in coal dust.

Which tablet is best for dust allergy? ›

These drugs relieve itching, sneezing and runny nose. Over-the-counter antihistamine tablets, such as fexofenadine (Allegra Allergy), loratadine (Alavert, Claritin,), cetirizine (Zyrtec) and others, as well as antihistamine syrups for children, are available.

Can dust make you cough? ›

A mild case of dust mite allergy may cause an occasional runny nose, watery eyes and sneezing. In severe cases, the condition may be ongoing (chronic), resulting in persistent sneezing, cough, congestion, facial pressure, an eczema flare-up or severe asthma attack.

How do you treat dust allergies at home? ›

Dust Mite Allergy Management and Treatment

Remove wall-to-wall carpets, curtains, and drapes particularly in the bedroom. Keep pets out of the bedroom, and preferably out of the house. Minimize household humidity. Use “mite-proof” cases on mattresses and pillows; wash bed linens frequently in hot water.

What are the control measures for dust? ›

Control measures

clean work areas using vacuum cleaners rather than brushing. alternatively, dampen areas with water before dust collection. limit the time of exposure of workers in dusty areas. rotate workers to other areas so that individual operatives do not get a high exposure.

How do I get rid of coal dust? ›

Regular vacuuming prevents coal dust from building up. Vacuum your home from the top down. Use an upholstery attachment to vacuum dust from the walls and wall hangings. Work your way down to furniture level and vacuum hard-surfaced and upholstered furniture.

What are the causes of coal dust explosion? ›

Methane explosions occur when a buildup of methane gas contacts a heat source and there is not enough air to dilute the gas level below its explosion point. Likewise, fine particles of coal dust in the right concentration that contact a source of heat can also be explosive.

Is coal safe to handle? ›

Coal is safe, inert and has been transported safely for more than 40 years. The International Agency for Research on Cancer does not include coal dust on its list of carcinogenic agents harmful to humans. Each rail car is sprayed with a coating that forms a thin crust on the coal to keep it in place.

What are coal fines used for? ›

Coal processing industries generate millions of tons of fines (<3 mm) during mining operation and are often considered as wastes. These wastes have enormous potential in serving as energy and metallurgical operation feedstock. One avenue for its use is densification into briquettes or pelletizes.

What is coal fine? ›

Fine coal is generally classified as the material having a particle size between 1 and 0.15 mm. A more precise definition of the top size may be the particle size selected as the bottom particle size treated in the small coal circuit.

What happens if you get dust in your lungs? ›

Dust particles and dust-containing macrophages collect in the lung tissues, causing injury to the lungs. The amount of dust and the kinds of particles involved influence how serious the lung injury will be. For example, after the macrophages swallow silica particles, they die and give off toxic substances.

What is the treatment for pneumoconiosis? ›

Your doctor may prescribe an inhaled medication such as a bronchodilator or corticosteroid. Bronchodilators open up your airways if you have trouble breathing, while corticosteroids can curb airway inflammation.

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