China’s long experience with the toxic legacy of rare earth mining provides a warning for those in Latin America planning to expand their own rare earth industries.
From the freshly paved highway, Bayan Obo looks like much of the Mongolian Steppe: gently rolling grasslands, rocky soils, mountains in the distance. There are occasional herds of horses, sheep, or goats and the adobe homes of their keepers. Some small mining operations are visible from the road. Mounds of coal, shale, and gravel line two-lane tracks in the dirt, awaiting pick up. Giant wind turbines spin slowly, outlined against the dusty, gray horizon.