Chinese Pay Price for World's REE Addiction
Source: Daily Times (5/2/11)
"Peasant farmers blame Baogang for tooth loss, gray hair by age 20."
Peasant farmer Wang Tao used to grow corn, potatoes and wheat within a stone's throw of a dumping ground for rare earths waste until toxic chemicals leaked into the water supply and poisoned his land.
Farmers living near the 10-square-kilometer expanse in northern China say they have lost teeth and their hair has turned white while tests show the soil and water contain high levels of cancer-causing radioactive materials.
"We are victims. The tailings dam has contaminated us," Wang, 60, told AFP at his home near Baotou city in Inner Mongolia, home to the world's largest deposits of rare earths, which are vital in making many high-tech products.
"In this place, if you eat the contaminated food or drink the contaminated water it will harm your body," Wang said, pointing toward lifeless fields now strewn with rubbish around Dalahai village, a few hundred meters from the dump.
Environmental groups have long criticized rare earths mining for spewing toxic chemicals and radioactive thorium and uranium into the air, water and soil, which can cause cancer and birth defects among residents and animals.
Beijing, keen to burnish its green credentials and tighten its grip over the highly sought-after metals, has started cleaning up the industry by closing illegal mines, setting tougher environmental standards and restricting exports.
But Wang and the other farmers in Dalahai blame state-owned giant Baogang Group, China's largest producer of rare earths and a major iron ore miner and steel producer, for poisoning their fields and ruining their livelihoods.
Strong winds whip across the dump's millions of tons of waste, blowing toxic and radioactive materials towards surrounding villages. "It is the pollution from the tailings dam," Wang Er, 52, told AFP, pointing a dirty finger at his spiky hair, which started turning white 30 years ago.