REES concentrations and emissions to the environment: regulatory thresholds to be set

The increasing number of REE studies in the past decade has been induced by their wider applications in high efficiency electronics and energy technologies. REEs have also received great interest in recent years due to concerns over the security of supply for these industrial activities considering them as strategic or critical elements in European and North American countries but also in Japan and even in China.

Up to now, research programs have focused to the (i) environmental impacts of production (ii) distribution of reserves and (iii) politico-economic conflict over supply, but international academic work quantifying their environmental behaviors and impacts are still lacking (McLellan et al., 2014; Migaszewski and Gałuszka, 2014) and because information on REE risks remains scarce (Herrmann et al., 2016) no regulatory thresholds for their concentrations and emissions to the environment have been set.

Focus on existing ANR programs

Some ongoing or just finished programs are specifically involved on studies positioned at the beginning or at the end of REE life cycle.

The ANR program Aster on “Analyse Systémique des TErres Rares, flux et stocks” was led in France by the Bureau des Ressources Géologiques et Minières and “Eurare” project funded by the European Commission for the 'Development of a sustainable exploitation scheme for Europe's Rare Earth ore deposits' is supported by the British Geological Survey.

The ANR program EXTRADE «Extraction des Terres Rares contenues dans les aimants permanents des Déchets des équipements électriques et électroniques » which focuses on the end of the REEs’ life cycle is also led by the Bureau de Recherches Géologiques et Minières (BRGM) in France.

Developping a wider approach with REEs

A few research programs or network consortium developed a wider approach with REEs or more generally with strategic metals.

A Canadian program is currently in progress in a mining exploratory context funded by WL University and the Government of the Northwest Territories and dealing with “Development of site specific toxicity estimates for the impact of REEs to northern aquatic species”.

A European Cost action entitled Network on Technology-Critical Elements, from Environmental Processes to Human Health Threats started in 2015, which sees the involvement of the Laboratoire interdisciplinaire des environnements continentaux (LIEC) and the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) as members of the management committee.

LIEC is also involved in the ANR program, LabEx RESSOURCES 21 (2011- 2019), ”Understanding and managing strategic metals in the 21st century” integrating scientific and educational approaches to improve understanding, exploitation and environmental management of strategic metal resources for the 21st century, that means far beyond the specific scope of REEs included in this project.

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