China Wrestles with the Toxic Aftermath of Rare Earth Mining

A former rare earth mining site in Longnan county, Jiangxi province. Michael Standaert/Yale e360

China Wrestles with the Toxic Aftermath of Rare Earth Mining

China has been a major source of rare earth metals used in high-tech products, from smartphones to wind turbines. As cleanup of these mining sites begins, experts argue that global companies that have benefited from access to these metals should help foot the bill.

By Michael Standaert July 2, 2019  

The mountains north of the village of Lingbeizhen in southern Jiangxi province no longer echo with the rumble of bulldozers and trucks. New bamboo groves climb the ravines. Tropical pines and navel orange trees grace terraces carved from the mountainsides, covering what was a hive of activity a few years back.

Higher up, where it is more difficult to replant and where erosion has taken its toll, nearly every knoll and mountaintop is scarred from mining activity. Black rubber hoses curl in the sun. PVC pipes, their ragged edges protruding from the red clay, mark where small crews of miners injected tons of ammonium sulfate, ammonium chloride, and other chemicals into the earth to separate valuable rare earth metals from the surrounding soil…