MAC: Mines and Communities

Hidden Dangers of Coal

Published by MAC on 2005-11-15

Hidden Dangers of Coal

By the International Campaign for Ecological Justice in Indonesia, based in the UK (Down to Earth)

15 Nov 2005

States from around the world last week congregated to discuss the "challenges" of increased global carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emmissions. Here we draw readers' attentions to two little known aspects of the use of coal: the lethal promotion of coal briquettes among poor families in Asia, and the exploitation of cheap labour in transporting the black stuff into Europe.

The dangers of coal briquettes

On October 1st, 2005, the president sharply increased the official price of cooking kerosene by 185% from Rp700 per litre to Rp2000 per litre, with the street price settling in subsequent weeks at around Rp2300/l. Further increases are planned until kerosene reaches international market prices in January 2008. The sudden increase in household cooking costs caused a massive public outcry so, less than a week later, coordinating minister for the economy Aburizal Bakrie outlined a government decision to spend Rp150 billion of the 2006 national budget to buy 10 million stoves for poor Indonesian households designed to burn coal briquettes priced at Rp1000 per kilogram.

Ironically, the Indonesian Ministry for Women's Empowerment has been given the task of promoting the household use of coal briquettes, a plan which brings significant health risks for women who do most household work in Indonesia. The World Health Organization estimates that use of solid fuels indoors results in 1.6 million premature deaths each year, largely among women who do most cooking, and the children in their care, who are at increased risk of death by respiratory infection. To address this public health problem, the Partnership for Clean Indoor Air was launched at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002. The initiative involves the UN and several developing nation governments such as China and India. Unfortunately, despite hosting the WSSD preparatory conference, Indonesia is not involved in the Partnership.

Studies conducted in China have detailed the nature and causes of health risks to women and children of cooking with coal: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons formed during coal combustion are a cause of oesophageal and lung cancers, and other hydrocarbon combustion products increase rates of acute respiratory infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (such as bronchitis and emphysema). Adding to this risk, coal contains varying levels of sulfur, mercury, arsenic, selenium and fluoride contaminants. The U.S. Geological Survey and the Institute of Geochemistry, Guizhou have estimated that at least 3,000 people in Guizhou Province in southwest China are suffering from chronic arsenic poisoning ,apparently from consuming food prepared over fires fuelled with coal.

The coal to be used in the government-sponsored coal briquette program comes from PT Batu Bara Bukit Asam and PT Kaltim Prima Coal. Since a controversial government-forced sale in 2003, Kaltim Prima Coal is owned by PT Bumi Resources, of which the Bakrie family (led by Coordinating Minister for the Economy Aburizal Bakrie) hold 43% shares. The Bakrie family therefore reportedly controls 40% of the national coal industry, a conflict of interest which does not seem to prevent Minister Bakrie from promoting a switch from liquid fuels to coal, nor from publicly speaking out against his cabinet colleague, Minister of Finance Jusuf Anwar's decision to levy a 5% tax on coal exports.

Neither Bukit Asam nor Kaltim Prima make information available on the (naturally varying) toxic contaminants in their coal, other than to say that their coal is low in sulfur. Officials researching and promoting stoves at the BPPT (Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology) acknowledge there are health issues inherent in using coal indoors, and recommend that the briquette-fuelled stoves be kept outside for 15 minutes after lighting, and, when brought inside, be used only in a well-ventilated kitchen. In response to health concerns, BPPT has also recently begun work on a certification scheme for coal briquettes, although this will only cover sulfur and carbon monoxide emissions. BPPT staff acknowledge this leaves out key pollutants of concern including mercury, arsenic, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.



Revealed: the abuse of seafarers who help turn our lights on

Apostleship of the Sea Press Release Great Britain

November 15th 2005

The charity responsible for deploying Catholic chaplains and ship visitors in Britain's ports is seeking to draw attention to the abuse which can be endured by seafarers as they bring us the coal we use to generate electricity, and the other goods we use and consume every day.

The Apostleship of the Sea (AOS) is highlighting the issue after its Chaplain to the Port of Tilbury, Fr Paul Boagey MHM, intervened on behalf of the Burmese crew of a cargo ship importing coal who were allegedly owed tens of thousands of pounds in unpaid wages.

When the M/V Ljubljana arrived in Tilbury on Thursday 3 November, bringing with it a cargo of coal from Latvia, the crew complained to the International Transport Federation (ITF) about the non-payment of outstanding wages and the Admiralty Marshall arrested the ship. On hearing the news of the arrest, Fr Paul sprang into action and provided support and practical assistance to those on board - both crewmembers and officers - who had been away from family and loved ones back home for ten months.

It became clear that denial of their wages was not all the crew had had to contend with. It was alleged by crewmembers in an anonymous statement that they were subjected to verbal racist attacks, denied warm clothing, refused breaks during shifts, and deprived of adequate food supplies.

Fr Paul visited the crew up to three times each day, and learned that the crew had felt unable to voice their grievances openly before out of fear of being black-listed and refused employment in the future. It was also claimed that representatives of the manning agent had even paid visits to homes of crewmembers' families in Burma, telling them that the seafarers faced imprisonment abroad if they caused any trouble.

As result of Fr Paul's hard work and the excellent service provided by the ITF, in collaboration with others, on Thursday 10 November the crew received a settlement of $194,000. This constituted their unpaid wages in full and the costs of repatriation to Burma.

Commodore Chris York, National Director of AOS, praised Fr Paul's work with the crew of the M/V Ljubljana, and said: "Unfortunately, abuse of seafarers' rights and human dignity is not uncommon in the modern globalised maritime industry. There are many excellent ship owners and manning agents, but also many unscrupulous operators who hide behind flags of convenience and treat seafarers as mere commodities to be exploited and then dispensed with. However, we say 'no' to the enslavement of seafarers. They are not just a commodity, but the most vital resource of the maritime industry. and more than that - they are our brothers and sisters."

Commodore York continued: "This case also highlights our level of dependence on seafarers. Not only do 95% of the goods we use and consume every day come to us by ship, but so does much of the fuel we need to generate the electricity to light our homes. So next time we flick a light switch or turn on the television, let us remember the often hidden plight of seafarers whose contribution to our quality of life cannot be understated."

[ The Apostleship of the Sea (Great Britain) is an agency of the Catholic Bishops' Conferences of England & Wales and Scotland. It is also an independent charity wholly reliant on voluntary donations to continue its ministry. AOS deploys chaplains and ship visitors to provide pastoral and practical support for the one million seafarers who visit our shores each year. In collaboration with its ecumenical partners, AOS also provides drop-in seafarers' centres in ports.

More information about the work of the Apostleship of the Sea is available from AOS on 020 7588 8285 or at

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