Last night (November 16-17), hospitals and emergency centers around Ulaanbaatar received 67 calls regarding smoke inhalations. Special emergency numbers, such us 101, 102 and 103 received the calls for help. It appears most of the emergencies were caused by carbon monoxide poisoning due to incomplete combustion of coals.
Ulaanbaatar is the coldest capital city in the world. In winter, residents of this city faces not just cold winter, but one of the coldest. Average temperature in December is -25 Celsius (-13 F). It fluctuates between -20 to -44 Celsius (That is -4F to -44F) As the city is located 4,430 feet above sea level, it has naturally harsh and extreme weather. Compared to this, average Moscow winter temperature is -7C. That’s like chilly autumn in Ulaanbaatar.
Back to the topic, because of this reason and due to primordial heating system of the city, many residents of the city resort to coal burning for their heating. No wonder it creates lots of smoke and air pollution. Until last year, thanks to its extremely cold winter, Ulaanbaatar has been in the list of the one of the most air polluted city in the world. Air pollution was really big issue.
Millions of USD were spent on improving coal stoves and household insulation methods. But no practical results were shown.
Then last spring, government of Mongolia decided to ban burning of raw coals. Instead, they decided to push people to use more coal briquettes, like this.
Sale of raw coals were banned throughout the city; special police patrols were set up to check raw coals. In short, supply of raw coals have been cut.
This winter, compared to previous years smoke has really decreased, which is good news for the city residents. However, strange and dangerous calls and deaths, related to carbon monoxide poisoning (CMP), have started to rise.
In previous years, there have never been so many emergency calls and deaths related to CMP. Even though smoke was big thing, and it affected babies and general health of the city residents, the number of recorded death due to smoke has never been sensational topic in the news. But this year, the situation shows different picture.
Next year will see parliamentary election. Political parties and politicians have already started their preparation for this race. Khurelsukh, PM of Mongolia, also will definitely run for it. One of their score is to look to have done something to improve air quality of capital city. Indeed air quality has improved significantly this year, compared to last few years. Unfortunately deaths have started to “happen”. Due to these circumstances, people now have fears of burning coal briquettes while journalists suspect authorities have no interest to publicize and acknowledge that deaths of people are caused by carbon monoxide poisoning.
Yet winter is just coming. We have not seen the worst of this winter which will definitely come by the end of December and January. We need better air, but we don’t want many people die for it. Unless situations change significantly, and authorities take actions regarding quality of coal briquettes, we might witness more deaths caused by carbon monoxide poisoning.
Update: December 28, 2019.
Three children were poisoned by smoke last night, in 11th khoroo Bayanzurkh. One of them died. The other two are being treated at National Anti Poison center. Relevant organizations are conducting inspections.