Gritty Images From China's Muddy Rare Earth Mines

chinese rare earth mining

China accounts for 97 per cent of global rare earth production and is said to have 87 per cent of the world’s rare earth deposits.

But in an attempt to curb pollution and protect its resources, the country began to slow exports of the metals.

Rare earths are used in everything from wind turbines to smartphones. The U.S., EU, and Japan have filed complaints with the World Trade organisation over these curbs.

Take a look at rare earth mining in China and its impact on local villagers and the environment.

China accounts for about 97 per cent of the world's supply of rare earths.

But China has recently sought to limit rare earth exports.

Some say one reason is to lower risks to the environment.

A laborer wades through water at a rare earth mine in Nancheng county, Jiangxi province.

A worker stokes pots containing the rare earth metal Lanthanum.

He then pours the liquid Lanthanum into a mould.

Once it has cooled, the Lanthanum is collected on a separate tray.

A miner shovels cast-off tailings (out of a channel sluicing crushed mineral ore containing rare earths) to a disposal dam on the edge of the Baotou.

Stairs lead into a tailings dam with polluted water.

The cast-off is sometimes bought by smaller operators for about $45 a ton.

Often the sludge is just dumped in open mounds. Here we see pipes from a rare earth smelting plant dump polluted water near Xinguang Village.

A villager is seen shoveling cast-off tailings of crushed ore that contain rare earths beyond a field of dead crops.

The air is so polluted the chimneys from a smelting plant are barely visible.

Villagers close to these sites have complained that they have threatened their livelihood and air and water pollutants are poisoning their families, water, plants and livestock.

The soil on an old rare earths site lies parched and cracked.

Now look at the lives of India's illegal coal miners ...

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