Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Rare Earth Elements, Agriculture, and Drinking Water

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We have all read about the high demand for rare earth elements in high-tech products like hybrid cars and cell phones.  However, they are increasingly used as a fertilizer and feed additive to promote growth in plants and animals.

Indeed, rare earth element use is increasing to the extent that some are starting to worry about the pollution of waterways from agricultural runoff.  Since many communities get drinking water from surface sources that receive agricultural runoff, many are concerned about rare earth elements in drinking water.  Unfortunately, the health impacts of these materials are not well known and we don't regularly test for rare earth elements in normal water testing.  While some evidence exists that there are health problems associated with exposure, we just do not know the long-term impact of this emerging pollutant class.  You can read what the EPA says about rare earths here.

Rare earth elements have been used to boost agricultural production for many years in China and their use has expanded around the world in the last decade.  

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