Coal's Other Victim: China's History

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A few years back, the Leshan Giant Buddha started to weep.

Or so some locals imagined when black streaks appeared on the rose-colored cheeks of the towering 7th-century figure, hewn from sandstone cliffs in the forests of southern China. They worried they had angered the religious icon.

The culprit, it turned out, was the region's growing number of coal-fired power plants. Their smokestacks spew toxic gases into the air, which return to earth as acid rain. Over time, the Buddha's nose turned black and curls of hair began to fall from its head.

"If this continues, the Buddha will lose its nose and even its ears," said Li Xiao Dong, a researcher who has studied the impact of air pollution in Sichuan Province, the statue's home. "It will become just a piece of rock."

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