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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Towards sustainable rare earth mining : a study of occupational & community health issues Zhang, Linlin


Rare earth elements (REEs) are a group of actinide minerals that have been widely used in many areas of industry, such as: electronics, petro-chemistry, metallurgy, and defense. They will continue to become a dominant contributor to global economic development. In the wake of REE exploration, mining and processing, concern has grown over potential associated occupational and community health issues and risks. There has traditionally been little specific health and safety guidance associated with REE mining to date. The motivation of this research is to raise an awareness of known REE mining occupational and community health risks. This aims to contribute to a sound foundation for the development of effective occupational and community health and safety management as part of sustainable REE mining. The thesis addresses four objectives: 1) to characterize the geological characteristics, current global production, uses and recycling of REEs, especially for the dominant producer: China; 2) to review the REE life cycle and identify key activities, contaminants, tailings, water management and closure processes that present potential occupational and community health and safety risks; 3) to present the results of a literature review, particularly focused on REE mining and occupational and community health in China that identifies issues and risks; and 4) to review policy and governance strategies adopted by key producing countries, particularly the USA, Canada and China. This work has sought to assemble and analyze prior Chinese REE research and governance literature reviews and translation. The findings relate to REE’s characteristics, toxicity, the routes and mechanism of inducing contaminates into the environment. Major known occupational health issues relate to lung/ liver/ bone/ brain/ blood diseases, skin disorders, and reproductive health issues. Major community health issues relate to indigestion, diarrhea, abdominal distension, anorexia, and low IQ in children. This thesis makes an original contribution in presenting what are considered to be a clearly justified and comprehensive set of occupational and community health indicators. The priority and considerations for future research on occupational and community health and safety management associated with REE mining have also been recommended, particularly for control measures and health impacts assessment.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada