A weekend for mining and environmental news--all bad.
China's state owned news agency reported that at least 24 miners died in an explosion at a coal mine in northwestern China.
Xinhua said 39 miners were working underground Saturday at 0820 GMT when the gas blast occurred at the Wayaobao Coal Mine in Shaanxi province. At least 24 died, seven survived with light injuries, and eight were still missing as of Sunday.
Xinhua said an investigation into the cause of the explosion, which was not clear as of this writing, had begun.
China has the world's deadliest coal mines. More than 7,000 workers die each year in fires, floods and explosions mostly caused by lax safety rules and poor equipment.
Booming China relies on coal for more than two-thirds of its electricity; and mine managers have increased production--and generally ignored safety precautions--to meet surging demand.
Booming China is also Polluting China--an environmental nightmare on a scale that few foreigners can appreciate. On this note, officials in southern China reported Saturday that a chemical factory illegally discharged waste water into a river, affecting the drinking supply of about 40,000 people.
Xinhua said an eight kilometer stretch of the Sancha River in Guangdong province was contaminated by the chemical discharge. It did not specify the type of chemical, but reported the presence of large quantities of dead fish and poisoned livestock.
Xinhua said the local government has ordered waterworks companies and residents to avoid using the river for its water supply, particularly in the town of Changqi.
The environmental impact of China's economic expansion does not stop at its borders.
The New York Times reported that timber-hungry China is planning to invest $7 billion in an unprecedented forest-to-palm oil project in Indonesia that will level much of the remaining tropical forests in Borneo.
The Times said the affected area is so ecologically important that is known as the lungs of Southeast Asia.
Wood from the forest will reportedly provide flooring and furniture for China's growing middle class. The trees will be replaced with vast plantations for palm oil, which is increasingly used in detergents, soaps and lipstick.
China's appetite for wood is also spurring illegal logging in Burma. Environmentalists say Chinese logging operations have moved further into the Burmese interior because a quarter of the forest cover near the border is already gone.
Unregulated logging is illegal in Burma; China bars imports of illegally cut timber; and government officials have downplayed the extent to which Chinese companies are responsible for Burma's devastation.
But there is growing concern that over-logging in the jungles of Southeast Asia is causing severe environmental and social problems. When hillsides are stripped of trees, soil erosion, landslides and floods become more common, and the destruction of forests destroys wildlife habitats. In addition, traditional communities that depend on forests for their livelihoods often are forced out of their homes.
Activists have urged China and Burma to enforce laws forbidding illegal logging. They are also urging other countries to ban imports of Chinese wood products that might be made from illegally cut trees.
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