The rare earths are 17 metallic elements, located in the middle of the periodic table (atomic numbers 21, 39, and 57–71). These metals have unusual fluorescent, conductive, and magnetic properties—which make them very useful when alloyed, or mixed, in small quantities with more common metals such as iron.
Geologically speaking, the rare earth elements are not especially rare. Deposits of these metals are found in many places around the globe, with some elements in about the same abundance in the earth’s crust as copper or tin. But rare earths are never found in very high concentrations and are usually found mixed together with one another or with radioactive elements, such as uranium and thorium.
The chemical properties of the rare earth elements make them difficult to separate from surrounding materials and from one another. These qualities also make them difficult to purify. Current production methods require a lot of ore and generate a great deal of harmful waste to extract just small amounts of rare earth metals. Waste from the processing methods include radioactive water, toxic fluorine, and acids

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