In the seaside hills of Ou Treh, Cambodia, Peng Mom led the way to her house along a train track – the only access to her village, which is surrounded by a thicket of palms and vines. Inside, soot coated her cooking pots and furniture. Holding up a kitchen chair, the mother of four explained that the dust on it had settled in just one day, dulling the plastic’s hue to grey.
Directly across the tracks from her house lay the source: a cavernous warehouse where coal ash, a waste product from two nearby power plants, is stored and processed. The ash has led to a range of maladies in Peng Mom’s community. She and her neighbour, Phok Nge, said their children have had coughs, indigestion from food dirtied by the soot, and other health issues. “The ash makes my kids so itchy their skin almost breaks,” Phok Nge said with her children gathered around her.