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sulfur dioxide from coal-burning power plants.

 LESHAN GIANT BUDDHA, MOUNT EMEI (China, Buddhist)
Towering above the sheer river gorges of China’s Sichuan province, Mount Emei, one of the “Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains of China”, represents the main seat of Chinese Buddhism. It is home to the country’s first Buddhist temple, built in the 1st century C.E., and contains numerous other temples, monasteries and religious shrines, including the 8th century Leshan Giant Buddha. This Tang Dynasty-era masterpiece is the world’s largest Buddhist statue, reaching an awe-inspiring 71 meters in height and is 28 meters in width. Carved out of a face of a sandstone cliff facing Mount Emei, the Leshan Giant Buddha is surrounded by spectacularly lush and breathtaking subtropical and subalpine forests, and rests atop the confluence of three major rivers, the Minjiang, Dadu, and Qingyi. This site is a place of invaluable religious, artistic and natural significance. 

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The Leshan Buddha has fallen victim to pollution emanating from unbridled development in the region. In this case, the culprit has been determined to be the growing number of coal fired power plants located near the Giant Buddha, specifically, the toxic gases that their smokestacks spew into the air; these eventually return to the earth as acid rain. Over time, the Buddha’s nose has turned black and the curls of his hair have begun to fall from his head. The local government has shut down several factories and power plants in close proximity to the Leshan Giant Buddha, which has stopped the blackening of his face from soot; however, acid rain continues to compromise the structural integrity of this masterpiece. The Leshan Giant Buddha, which was designed carefully to survive millennia of floods and earthquakes, is now at high risk of rapid deterioration from the unbridled pace of industrial development in western China.