Friday, April 8, 2011 , at 9:03 PM
The Berkeley Pit, Montana
In November 1995, a flock of migrating snow geese landed on the Berkeley Pit Lake, a copper mine filled with more than 40 billion gallons of acidic water and heavy metals . After several days of stormy weather and fog that prevented the birds from leaving, 342 were found dead. The State of Montana determined that excessive exposure to Pit water had corroded the birds’ esophagi.
Called the most toxic place in the United States by the EPA, it was once the world’s richest lead and zinc mining field, and home to 20,000 people. Now fewer than 25 people remain. Acidic water seeped up from the underground mining tunnels and turned the creek that runs through the area red and poisonous. The deteriorating underground mines threaten to swallow the streets whole, and mountains of mining waste contaminated with lead loom over the empty town.
The Aral Sea, Kazakhstan
Soviet irrigation projects stemming from the Aral Sea have slowly drained the water level of this once great sea. Today, the sea is nearly dry and has separated into two much smaller seas. Fishing boats sit aground, rusting in a vast, contaminated desert wasteland.
The Garbage Patch, Pacific Ocean
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest landfill in the world, though “landfill” isn’t exactly the right word for it. The garbage patch, also known as the Pacific Trash Vortex, consists of 3.5 million tons of trash — 90% of which is plastic debris — that is swirling between Hawaii and California. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is twice the size of Texas.
Cactus Dome, Marshall Islands
In the late 1970s, in an effort to clean up the radioactive debris left by the nuclear test explosions in the Marshall Islands, the U.S. government dug up 111,000 cubic yards of radioactive soil and deposited it on Runit Island into a 350-foot wide crater left by the nuclear tests. An enormous, foot-and-a-half-thick, 100,000-square-foot dome consisting of 358 gigantic concrete panels was built over the site. It cost the government nearly a quarter of a billion dollars and took three years to complete. The area is still radioactive.
Decades of strip mining for phosphorus have devastated over 80 percent of Nauru’s land, leaving it a barren wasteland of jagged limestone pinnacles up to 49 ft. high. With its reserves depleted, the country’s economy collapsed, and the devastation left by strip mining mostly eliminated the chance of establishing a tourist industry.Today Nauru has just a 150-meter-wide strip of fertile land left along one of it shores.
The Chernobyl Zone Of Alienation
On April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl Nuclear Station exploded, releasing radioactive material into the air and contaminating millions of square miles. The 49,000-person town closest to the reactor, Pripyat, was forced to evacuate entirely. Two decades later, this ghost town is a radioactive freeze frame of the Soviet Union in 1986. Without people, the city is beginning to be swallowed up by the surrounding forest.
The Gates Of Hell, Turkmenistan
In the desert in Turkmenistan is a hole 328 ft. wide that has been on fire, continuously, for 38 years. In 1971, a Soviet drilling rig accidentally punched into a massive underground natural gas cavern, causing the ground to collapse and the entire drilling rig to fall in. Poisonous fumes began leaking from the hole. To head off a potential deadly catastrophe, the Soviets set the hole aflame