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China accuses Chinalco rare earth unit of breaking pollution regulations

BEIJING/SHANGHAI, Sept 24 (Reuters) - A rare earth subsidiary of state-run Aluminium Corp of China (Chinalco) in the southwestern region of Guangxi has repeatedly violated pollution rules and contaminated nearby land, the environment ministry said following an inspection of the firm.

Earlier this month, a central government environmental inspection team found that affiliates of the Chinalco subsidiary Guangxi Nonferrous Rare Earth Development Co Ltd failed to properly rectify violations and “seriously polluted the surrounding environment”, according to a statement from the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) published late on Wednesday.

Guangxi Nonferrous was previously punished for environmental violations in 2018 along with Chinalco's subsidiary in northwestern China. reut.rs/33XBPt9

The MEE statement on Wednesday said some mining projects run by Guangxi Nonferrous’ units exceeded their approved limits and built outdated and illegal production facilities.

“The inspection found ... obvious problems of legal violations, chaotic environmental management and relatively large environmental risks at the Guangxi rare earth company,” it said.

Chinalco must now investigate the problems and make corrections, the ministry said. A company spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

China began a nationwide environmental auditing programme in 2016, focusing on compliance in its provinces and regions. It was then expanded to giant state-owned companies like Minmetals, which was accused of being a “big corporate bully” in 2017 after failing to fix repeated violations.

The latest round of audits also included the China National Building Materials Corp, and found that one of its subsidiaries had not only failed to rectify violations but also tried to cover them up, the MEE said in a separate statement on Wednesday.

By Sept. 20, environmental inspectors had handled 6,047 complaints, issued 46.7 million yuan ($6.85 million) in fines and detained 30 people during this round of audits, the environment ministry said on Tuesday.

$1 = 6.8195 yuan Reporting by Min Zhang in Beijing and David Stanway in Shanghai

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