Chinese authorities are pursuing illegal miners in the Xinfeng county of Shaoguan city, Guangdong province, where the tracks of rare earth mining have left mountainsides stripped.

Rare earth from China accounts for 97% of global production, but the mining causes heavy environmental damage. Soil is often contaminated, affecting crop production and heavy metals can soil ground water. Large amounts of toxic gases are also emitted from the processes involved.

The government is directing efforts to control development, production and distribution of these rare earth elements, tightening the grip on illegal mining. Informants are rewarded with 3,000 yuan (about US$38).

Despite tight controls, illegal miners continue to operate underground in Guangdong, particularly looking for dysprosium, which is used for vehicles and cellphones. Rare earth resources are also essential components of ballistic missiles and fighter jets.

Japan, the US, and the EU have filed a complaint to the World Trade Organization (WTO) about China’s export controls on rare earth resources. China defended its efforts to control exports as a measure to curb environmental damage and denied preferential production for domestic companies.