Rare Earth Minerals Turn Villages to Ruins
Baotou, Inner Mongolia is China’s largest
rare earth mineral production base.
Although it is a precious mineral resource,
rare earth imposes great dangers of pollution.
Recently, French media reported from Baotou.
Entitled “In China, rare earths are killing villages”,
the report highlighted massive environmental pollution.
It revealed the impact of the production of rare earth
minerals on local residents, animals and land.
The following is our report.
French media 『Le Monde』 reported from Baotou, stating
that by aerial viewpoint, it looks like a large lake,
fed by numerous tributaries. On site, it is actually
an opaque discharge covering an area of 10 km2.
Surrounding the industrial plants producing 17 minerals
are reject waste waters loaded with chemicals.
There are no fish or algae
The Le Monde article introduced that rock from Bayan obo
rare earth ore mine, located 120 kilometers away, are sent here for treatment.
The concentration of rare earth in the rocks is very low and
must be separated and purified by hydrometallurgical processes and acid baths.
In the effluent basin are exist all sorts of toxic chemicals
and radioactive elements such as thorium.
Ingestion of these toxins causes cancer
of the pancreas, lung and blood.
A pungent odor exudes within radius of 10 miles.
Local villagers have been suffering from cancer.
Rows of brown houses in the village
have been reduced to rubble.
Sichuan environmentalist Chen Yunfei indicates
that rare earth refining process causes great environmental pollution and destruction.
People are unaware of the specific dangers of this project,
and the specialists involved in the decision-making.
Chen Yunfei: “Some officials only work on the image projects
for profit. They relocate once the money has been made.
Some officials collude with the business, caring about
nothing but profit, leaving the mess for the public."
According to local residents, Baotou
used to be a vast grassland.
In 1958 the state enterprise Baotou Iron and Steel
Company began producing rare earth production.
By the end of 1980, locals found that the plant was in trouble.
Last year, China Environment News reported that
Baotou Iron and Steel Group’s tailing dam leakage has caused damage to five surrounding villages.
It has affected more than 3000 farmers,
and ruined more than 3,295 Acres of farmland.
Ma Peng, former Director of the Baotou Rare Earth
Research Institute, indicated that
due to the lack of a barrier below the tailing dam, the mining
waste is directly discharging into the Yellow River.
The discharge is at a rate of 300m per year.
The residents also said that further pollution has been
caused by other industries and thermal power plants.
These industries followed rare earth production
by the Baotou Iron and Steel Company.
Local residents have to breathe air saturated with sulfuric
acid and coal dust. Coal dust is airbourne around the houses.
Cows, horses, chickens and goats
are being killed by these poisons.
The locals have fled, and Xinguang Sancun village has now
decreased from 2000 villagers to 300. Every family is hit with illness.
After 20 years of complaints to the local government, the
villagers have finally won promises of financial compensation.
These have only been partially fulfilled.
Miss Hao, a resident of Baotou: “We all know.
The government is too dark.
No one cares about the people, whether
they live or die, not to mention the pollution."
For many years, there have been calls for attention
for the issue of Baotou tailing dam discharging thorium radiation to Baotou and into the Yellow River.
The hazards and pollution caused by the Baotou
tailing dam have never been effectively alleviated.
Environmentalist Chen Yunfei: “This is an investment
that has hurt several generations.
It has polluted the whole environment.
This high cost investment ought to be condemned.
Our future generations are going to suffer for it."
China Environment News indicated that Baotou
is located in the stratum fracture zone.
In the event of a major earthquake or large-scale rainfall,
the rupture of the tailing dam will threaten the surrounding
five villages, as well as tens of thousands of lives
of the Baotou Iron and Steel workers.
If the tailings flow into the Yellow River,
it will cause serious pollution to the river.