In July last year, China was selling its processed rare earth metals at US$14,405 on average. In February this year, China’s rare earth exports burst through the US$100,000-per-tonne mark – that’s nine times more.
At such prices any country would want to venture into the rare earth industry but at what risk.
According to a news report in UK’s Daily Mail, the villagers in Inner Mongolia in China, home to the bulk of rare earth metals for the global market, claim that their teeth began to fall out, their hair turned white at unusually young ages, and they suffered from severe skin and respiratory diseases. Children were born with soft bones and cancer rates rocketed.
Official studies carried out five years ago in Dalahai village confirmed there were unusually high rates of cancer along with high rates of osteoporosis and skin and respiratory diseases.
A large lake has been turned into a dumping ground for seven million tons a year of mined rare earth after it has been doused in acid and chemicals and processed through red-hot furnaces to extract its components. The lake’s radiation levels are ten times higher than in the surrounding countryside, the studies found. It has killed farmland, made thousands of people ill and put one of China’s key waterways in jeopardy.
Large amounts of highly toxic acids, heavy metals and other chemicals are emitted into the air that people breathe, and leak into surface and ground water. Villagers rely on this for irrigation of their crops and for drinking water.
Greenpeace China’s toxics expert Jamie Choi said in the news report: “There’s not one step of the rare earth mining process that is not disastrous for the environment. Ores are being extracted by pumping acid into the ground, and then they are processed using more acid and chemicals.”
This is the kind of future we are looking at if Malaysia goes ahead with the plan to allow Australian mining giant Lynas Corporation Ltd to build the largest rare earth refinery in the world in Gebeng, Kuantan.
Universiti Sains Malaysia toxicologist and occupational health and safety expert Dr Jayabalan Thambyappa has been warning us about the dangers of radiation. He says that any form of radiation is carcinogenic and that the proponents of the Lynas project are using the term ‘low-level radiation’ to allay fear.
And he should know best, as he was one of the scientists who researched on the effects of rare earth operations in Bukit Merah, Perak. At least eight leukaemia cases, with seven resulting in death, have been linked to the plant operations. The plant, operated by Mitsubishi Chemicals from 1985 to 1992, is still carrying out a massive RM300 million clean-up.
Energy policy analyst Mark Humphries said in the report Rare Earth Elements: The Global Supply Chain submitted to the US Congress by in September last year that although the United States had 13 percent of the world’s rare earths, it was not mining them due to environmental concerns.
Local and foreign experts are all saying the same thing – rare earth industry will destroy the lives of people, wreck the environment and leave behind a trail of poison that will linger for billions of years.
Why is the government putting economic gains above the lives of the people?
Have our lives become so cheap that the government wants to go ahead with a deadly industry?
Malaysians in Bukit Merah have suffered enough, we do not want other Malaysians to suffer as well. We want the government to stop Lynas and to stop rare earth industry from ever setting foot on Malaysian soil again.
MALAYSIAN CIVIL LIBERTIES MOVEMENT