Let's Talk About: Material Extraction

Material Extraction
TV? Laptop? Smartphone? Smartwatch? Earphones? External hard drive? E-bike? Raise your hand if you have at least two of them.

Several modern technologies with multiple applications in our daily life depend on rare earth elements. Besides their  applications in new technologies, rare earth elements are largely used in agriculture, medicine, and new emerging domains facilitating our modern lifestyle. But, are there any drawbacks behind new technologies? Where do their components come from? Where do the devices go when they are old and not rentable anymore? The environmental and social hazards created by mining sites and the increasing amount of e-waste put under pressure entire villages around the world. 

Cerro de Pasco is a mining town of Perù counting about 70’000 inhabitants. Here various metals, like silvers, zynk, iron, get massively extracted everyday. Cerro de Pasco is one of the highest cities in the world, and one of the most polluted places on Earth. Here, multiple human rights are violated every day: the right to water, to education, to health, to live in a clean environment, to property, and to information.

People are severely contaminated with heavy metals, which affect their physical and mental health. The contamination with heavy metals is primarily caused by the ingestion of contaminated soil, water and food and through the inhalation or ingestion of contaminated dust.

Recent studies estimate that every year about 50 million metric tons of e-waste get disposed in landfills around the world. Nevertheless, only about 12.5% of all metals in e-waste is being recycled. The widespread use of rare earth elements is causing a constant increase of their concentrations in the environment, disturbing aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems and leading to several human health troubles. 

How, then, should we proceed? Shall we close our eyes, and pretend this is not happening? Shall we wait until both environmental and human health costs will become unaffordable? Or do we react, right now, and fight together with all the victims of these unsustainable and intolerable systems around the world?


V. Balaram, Rare earth elements: A review of applications, occurrence, exploration, analysis, recycling, and environmental impact. Geoscience Frontiers, 10 (2019), pp. 1285-1303, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gsf.2018.12.005

https://www.source-international.org/featured-cerro-de-pasco (10 November 2020)

http://www.climatecrimeanalysis.org/case-study.html (10 November 2020)

Source International, Cerro de Pasco – Last Report. Clinic study on children exposure and environmental monitoring between 2018-2019, April 2020. https://uploads-ssl.webflow.com/.../5ebb64e7d5861010f00a0...(10 November 2020)

Source International, Center for Climate Crime Analysis - Report to the Councilon Ethics of the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global on the situation in Cerro de Pasco, June 2019.

https://uploads-ssl.webflow.com/.../5ed2f24d3b7997823854c...(10 November 2020)