ULAANBAATAR, MONGOLIA — Soot and ash bloom from the stove as Sukhbaatar Jizaabandi pounds it with a hammer. Dust crowds the air, caught in sunlight that spills through a window. Hands gloved, Sukhbaatar shovels the soot into a bucket.
On the surface, Sukhbaatar’s work as a government-hired chimney sweep seems like a prosaic necessity in a country where stoves are often the center of the home.
Yet to thousands, he and his colleagues are lifesavers.
That’s because, in clearing ash and soot, Sukhbaatar protects Ulaanbaatar residents from deadly carbon monoxide poisoning.
That was the tragic lesson of 2019, after the Mongolian government decided to reduce air pollution by banning the burning of raw coal. But the change unleashed a new problem, as the use of new refined charcoal led to carbon monoxide poisoning that killed eight people in a month.
Since then, the government has hired hundreds of chimney sweeps to prevent a recurrence as part of a broader campaign to combat pollution in a country whose air ranks among the dirtiest in the world. Ulaanbaatar’s air is the most polluted in the country.
Nansalmaa Oyunchimeg, GPJ Mongolia
For decades, Mongolians used unprocessed coal in stoves during Mongolia’s long, legendary winters, when temperatures can bottom out at minus 45…