Deep inside the Baiyun Obo mine, near Baotou, Mongolia, workers continue to acquire rare earth metals, specific types of elemental metals that have unique magnetic, luminescent, and electrochemical properties.
These metals enable people to do all sorts of things with modern electronics, including making them lighter, stronger, faster, and smaller. They’re used in a wide array of machines, from cell phones to electric cars and a full list of them can be found here, along with some descriptions.
Baiyun Obo mine is the largest extraction site of rare earth metals in the world and the collection and refinement of these chemicals are pumping out massive toxic pollution at full blast. Watch
This is happening at Baogang Steel and Rare Earth Complex and it is owned by two companies, Baogang Share and Baogang Rare Earth.
It is also mind-bending. Tim Maughan, at the BBC, wrote that “after seeing the impact of rare earth mining myself, it’s impossible to view the gadgets I use every day in the same way. Once we made watches with minerals mined from the Earth and treated them like precious heirlooms; now we use even rarer minerals and we’ll want to update them yearly.”
He understands humanity’s desire for more. But is this price to pay too great?