Rare Earth Pollution: A Growing China Problem

Rare earth mining pollution is an unfortunate side effect to the ever growing mining industry's desire to obtain and control the worldwide supply of these lanthanide and actinide elements which happen to be not so rare after all.  They are just a little difficult to mine in quantity and extract efficiently using current methods.  The rare earth stocks are controlled almost exclusively by Chinese companies to the tune of about 90% or more and unfortunately for our fragile planet, China mining companies are not known to incorporate the best practices and safeguards in regards to the rare earth mining pollution problem.

While American rare earth companies as well as others not tied to China are stepping in more recently to boost the supply of rare earth minerals and elements, it will be interesting to see exactly how much of the market they are able to obtain.  Molycorp is one such mining company that is renovating and reopening the Moutain Pass rare earth mine in California.  It is important that such companies have monitors and techniques in place to deal with rare earth mining pollution and it would be even better if they actually proposed new extraction procedures.  The old ways just are not proving to be prudent and they seem to be producing conditions just as dangerous as the early coal mining revolution.  The minerals contain rare earth elements in such formations that they are often difficult to separate without the use of corrosive and harmful acids which the industrial refining plants often (at least in China)  allow to seep out into the surrounding areas and take rare earth mining pollution to innocent civilians and unwary wildlife.  There is a virtual toxic lake in Mongolia which is one of the larger areas processing rare earth element stocks and children have actually fallen through the surface and into a pit of harsh poison and death.  They aren't amazed by the new lake and playing in it any more.  No, in fact, it is likely that most are very scared for their animals and families and wonder what health problems the future may hold due to their exposure to the rare earth mining pollution.  Cancer, skin problems, death and everything in between seem to be very likely to increase exponentionally.  Consumers may not realize that they are becoming unknowing participants in the rare earth pollution game which can also go as far to include slavery perhaps in some plants.  Certainly, the workers even in "good" plants are making far less than any American would take to risk his life and future to process some neodymium or some such other rare earth that will wind up in some American kid's iphone or droid. 

Toxic Waste - Rare Earth Mining Pollution Produces Plenty
Credit: photo by yunheisapunk on Flickr

Rare Earth Mining Pollution Extends Beyone China

So while the environmental consequences of such rare earth element (ree) mining activities is detrimental to the immediate areas it can also have larger impacts.  Air pollution sends toxic fumes the way of the wind with no true way to tell where it may end up or who may be poisoned by the gas which only smells like money to the slave driving company bosses, if they even dare go near their own plants.  China has toyed with the outside world and announced news on the pretense that the are actually trying to decrease rare earth mining pollution and clean up some of the mess provided.  In fact, many of these measures were used simply to eliminate some of the rogue competition without any real regard for the environment.  It is also a way for China to point to the self-imposed restrictions as an excuse for manipulating the supply to the world market.  As stated before, rare earths are not all that rare and there has even been evidence of Chinese sellers sitting on huge supplies to drive the price upwards before selling.  It is time that the world supports efforts to rehabilitate and energize rare earth mines in places outside the far east and at the same time provide the necessary oversight and methods to curb rare earth mining pollution so that places like California do not become the next Inner Mongolia and freedom is obtained from the near-monopoly of China.  The rare earths are fascinating elements with many current applicatins and future applications yet to be envisioned.  For example, cerium oxide polishing compound is practically the best solution for polishing glass, mirrors, jewelry or just about any other surface known to man.  Neodymium magnets are used in everything from consumer electronics up to government defense systems (even more reason to reduce China reliance).  Research and efforts should be put into clean and green initiatives to extract this wonder from the earth. No element is worth the ultimate human and environmental cost of rare earth mining pollution.