Linfen: The World's Most Polluted City?

<p>Cities like Linfen bear the ecological burden of China's massive, coal-fired economic growth.</p>
February 5, 2007, 11am PST | Michael Dudley
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"[Linfen, a city of about 4.3 million] is the toxic centre of China's coal-producing heartland. It's an apocalyptic vision of clanking factories, spewing smokestacks, burning flames, suffocating fumes, slag heaps, constant haze and relentless dust.

[Linfen is] possibly the most polluted place on the planet. It is certainly one of the dirtiest cities in China, a status confirmed by annual government surveys for the past five years. A World Bank study a few years ago concluded that it was the most polluted city in the world.

On a winter morning, the smog is so thick that a visitor can barely see 100 metres ahead. Buildings disappear into the haze. The Buddhas in the ancient temples are black with coal dust. Even the sun is barely visible in the darkened sky. Linfen is a ghost city, inhabited by people who loom out of the smog like spectral presences.

...Coal is everything here. The city is surrounded by coal mines, including dozens of illegal ones, which supply the raw material for the dozens of coking factories and steel factories inside the city.

Coal has brought a dramatic rise in living standards for the people of Linfen, just as it has in the rest of China. Within a generation, their homes have become bigger, their diets have improved and some can even afford cars. Linfen's growth rate of 12 per cent annually is higher than the national average. But the cost to its health and environment has been enormous."

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Published on Saturday, February 3, 2007 in The Globe & Mail
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