YouTube: In China, Rare Earths are Killing Villages

Published on Jul 31, 2012 by 

Baotou, a city in Inner Mongolia, is the largest processor of rare earth minerals. Although these are valuable minerals, they also cause a great deal of pollution. An article in the French newspaper Le Monde examined the pollution around Baotou, and what that has meant for local residents.
An article in the French newspaper Le Monde reported that from the air, looking down at the city of Baotou in northern China, the city looks like a large lake, fed by numerous tributaries. From the ground, it is actually a murky polluted discharge covering an area of 10 square kilometers. It surrounds numerous industrial plants that produce 17 minerals known as rare earth minerals. The rejected waste waters are loaded with toxic chemicals. There are no fish or algae in the water. Nothing can live there.

According to Le Monde, the rocks of the rare earth mine in Bayan, almost 200 kilometers away, are sent to Baotou 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. The effluent basin has all kinds of toxic chemicals and radioactive elements like thorium. Ingestion of these toxins can cause cancer of the pancreas, lungs and blood.

A pungent odor rises within 15 kilometers. 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. But the people are not aware of the specific dangers of this project, and the specialists involved in the decision-making.

[Chen Yunfei, environmental protection activist]:
“Some officials only work on the projects for profit. They relocate once the money has been made. Some officials collude with these businesses, caring about nothing but profit, and then leave the mess for the public.”

According to local residents, Baotou used to be a vast grassland. In 1958, a state-run company called Baotou Iron and Steel began to refine rare earth minerals. At the end of the 1980s, locals found that the plant was in trouble.

Last year, China Environment News, a Chinese newspaper reported that a leak in the dam of a tailings lake had damaged five surrounding villages. It had 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 tailings dam, toxic waste water was directly discharging into the Yellow River. The discharge was at a rate of 300 cubic meters per year.

Residents also said that other industries, including power plants have caused more pollution. These industries were built later. The locals breathe air saturated with sulfuric acid and coal dust. Cows, horses, poultry and goats are killed by these poisons.

The residents fled the area. For example the village of Xinguang Sancun has now decreased from 2000 to 300 people, and all the families are affected with illness. After 20 years of complaining to local authorities, the villagers have finally won promises of financial compensation. But they have only been partially kept.

[Mrs. Hao, A resident of the area]
“We all know the diet is unhealthy. Nobody cares about the people, whether they live or die, not to mention the pollution.”

For many years, calls have been made drawing attention to the radioactive thorium spilled into the Yellow River. But the risks and pollution caused by the tailings dam at Baotou have never been considered.

[Chen Yunfei, environmental protection activist]:
“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.”

According to China Environment News, Baotou is located in a fracture zone. In the event of a major earthquake or a large-scale rainfall, a rupture of the tailings dam would threaten the surrounding five villages, as well as tens of thousands of employees at Baotou Iron and Steel. If the tailings flow into the Yellow River, it would cause serious pollution, and harm to people down river.


News & Politics


Standard YouTube License

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *