In Vietnam's coal kingdom, locals risk lives to turn dust into gold

By Minh Cuong   June 24, 2017 | 02:21 pm GMT+7

For many in Quang Ninh, the dark waters that pass by their homes mean money.

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Quang Ninh is the biggest coal producer in Vietnam. This canal, aptly dubbed the "Chemicals Ditch," carries discharges from a few major mines. Locals should be trying to stay away from this thick black slurry flow, and yet many don't.

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The canal runs two kilometers (1.4 miles) through a residential neighborhood in Cam Pha City. On rainy days, thousands of tons of coal dust from Coc Sau and Deo Nai coal mines could end up here. For these Vietnamese, that means money. 

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They submerge themselves in the heavily polluted water and try to harvest as much coal dust as they can.

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A man strains the muddy water to get the coal.

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Some families even channel the discharges into their own ponds. 

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The "coal fishing" practice is prohibited but it appears that the ban is not strictly policed. According to local authorities, some people can earn up to thousands of dollars a year from recycling coal this way.

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A red sign, which bans local from obstructing the flow, is disregarded. It doesn't say anything about possible health risks. Nguyen Thi Thu Ha, chairwoman of the city's Cam Phu Ward, said it’s difficult to check on the locals all the time.

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This area is one of the busiest places for "coal fishing" as it stands right next to a mine.

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This worker said his team of three can collect three to five tons of coal each day. On a lucky day, when there's heavy rain, that could be 20 tons.