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Last week, Ohai Coal Mine announced it would cease its operation at the end of this month, drawing the ire of the small working-class community.
But while many lamented the the end of an era for a town built on fossil fuel, Carol Cudby Robinson didn't shed a tear.
The ex-Marlborough resident moved to Ohai to be mortgage-free, but says she’s struggled to settle into a place so passionate about burning coal, residents do it even when it’s sunny.
“With the coal fires burning as intensely as they are... if someone burns a fire, it hangs around," she says.
“I can’t go outside, it’s that bad. I know, because my eyes burn."
Cudby Robinson says the smoke got so difficult to cope with, she had to put masking tape around her windows and doors to stop the fumes getting in.
She is calling on Environment Southland (the regional council) to ban the domestic burning of coal, joining a chorus of concerned voices worldwide.
Aside from the environmental impact, research also paints a damning picture of risk to human health. Toxic compounds produced by burning coal are linked to respiratory and cardiovascular disease.
But in Ohai, the anti-coal stance is an unpopular one. Even though there are obvious health concerns, the sedimentary rock is inextricable from the life and work of its residents.
Two doors down from Cudby Robinson lives ex-miner Don Lumsden, who retired from Ohai Coal Mine in 2004 after 38 years of service.
During that time he operated "just about every machine they had on the place”.
Asked if he was concerned about pollution in the town, he said it was only Kaitangata coal that caused a problem.
"It’s alright for these people in Auckland. They never see snow like we see it. We're under the Takitimu Mountains here.
“A few years ago we had a fall of snow, I’d say we had two and a half, three feet. And then it froze on top of it.
"We were frozen out for a month and a half. How are we supposed to keep warm?"
For Lumsden, coal’s efficiency will always reign supreme.
"That had a piece of coal on it at half past seven," he says, pointing to his fire.
"Can you not feel the heat still coming out?"
But there are currently no multi-fuel or coal burners that are compliant with the National Environmental Standards for Air Quality.
"This means we are seeing less coal being burned as older burners are replaced," Hicks said.
Although Ohai Coal Mine is pulling out of the area, nearby Nightcaps is still home to Takitimu Mine.
The forestry block is owned by Southland District Council, who has been taken to court by Forest & Bird for allowing the exploration.