In remote, rural areas of southwestern China, villagers cook and dry their clothes by burning pieces of coal they pick up off the ground. This fuel releases a toxin that may be poisoning millions of people, according to an ongoing investigation by chemists at the University at Buffalo in New York. The researchers are presenting their work today at the AVS 57th International Symposium & Exhibition, which takes place this week at the Albuquerque Convention Center in New Mexico. The toxin in question is fluoride, which binds to calcium in the human body and causes the disease fluorosis. This condition, which affects millions in China’s Guizhou province, can cause dental problems, such as discolored and pitted teeth, as well as joint pain, muscular degeneration, and deformities in joints and the spine.
Worldwide, the most common source of excess fluoride is polluted water. But according to Joseph Gardella, a chemist at UB who has collaborated on a research project with Professor Handong Liang of the China University of Mining and Technology, Beijing (CUMTB), polluted coal may also be to blame.
“Careful research supported by the Chinese government eliminated water as the source, and pointed to air pollution from coal fired home fireplace,” says Gardella. “The government has focused on finding solutions to the health issues resulting from the pollution in the villages and in identifying solutions to eliminating the pollution sources.”