Berkeley Pit in Butte, Montana. It looks really pretty in this picture… a rich, chocolatey lake reflecting the sky above it. Show up there, and you can buy tickets to view it from a special platform. There's even a souvenir shop. Sounds nice. Shame it's so toxic that nothing can survive in it.
Well, not nothing – but I'll get back to that later. However, in short, this former copper mine kills almost everything that comes near it. Tourists excluded – unless they dive in, that is. But authorities strongly advise they don't. The reason? Residue from the mine, closed in 1982 and flooded with groundwater, has created a cocktail so lethal that when 342 snow geese landed on the lake 12 years ago, they didn't make it through the night.
The water is so full of manganese, iron and copper compounds that it'll stain your clothes, burn your eyes, strip your skin, corrode your throat, and… well, you get the picture. It's been described as a 'giant cauldron of dilute battery acid'. There are no fish in the lake. There's no grass around it. Even mosquitoes steer clear.
The picture above was taken from the International Space Station in 2006. At that point the pool was 275m deep, but it's still rising. It has been designated a government Superfund site (an uncontrolled or abandoned site containing hazardous waste that might affect local ecosystems or people). The water has to be monitored closely to make sure it stays where it is. Plans are under way to pump and filter it, keeping toxic levels under control, but data suggests that that may take a very long time.
But here's a strange twist of fate. Scientists have recently discovered that hundreds of unique microbes, bacteria, algae and fungi which have evolved in the Pit, may be useful in treating cancer. Talk about a silver lining… Pity the cloud is so dark. RM