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Deadly lake

Deadly lake.............................(buttepitflickr.jpg)

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.

Deadly lake.............................(buttepit.jpg)

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.

Deadly lake.............................(buttepitnasa.jpg)

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 

Images: (top) Flickr; (bottom) NASA 

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  • zzz

    August 6, 2010

    Have you ever seen the people that live there. It is obvious the water is tainted. Goiters on many, cancer thrives. It is an armpit hole and nothing is being done about it. I was told by my boss when traveling through to order bottled water from the restaurants.

  • Pete Kilvert

    July 26, 2010

    The bit about cancer curing microbes sounds like a fairy story so that the authorities don’t have to make it safe !!

  • carbonware

    July 22, 2010

    makes me want to dip and stain clothes in it and then sell them. Like the dirt shrt. Always some way to capitalize on it.

  • Will

    July 21, 2010

    Check out the brilliant WNYC RadioLab podcast which covers this story in detail:

  • Rob

    July 19, 2010

    I see horror movie written all over this.

  • w i l l y

    July 19, 2010

    i wanna swiimmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm !!!!!!!!!!!!

  • luke

    July 19, 2010

    turn it into porridge then pave over the top

  • Justfew

    July 18, 2010

    Looks very scary…how secured is it from the general public

  • bonham

    July 16, 2010

    @power, Demgar
    In order to use it as a battery one has to have two half cells, each with an electrode of a metal and the corresponding solution. This is however only a slightly acidic solution of a couple of metals.

    One could probably coat metal (zinc, iron) objects with a layer of copper if the concentration is sufficient. It’s a basic galvanic process. Getting the metals out is way to expensive, I reckon.

  • Demgar

    July 15, 2010

    “dilute battery acid” – I wonder if perhaps a clever person could use it as ACTUAL battery acid and turn it into something useful.

  • Some Guy

    July 8, 2010

    Sounds tasty…

  • articles

    July 6, 2010

    Looks like a scary lake 🙂

  • noone

    July 1, 2010

    @power, it’s just a mess of metals that have an acidic quality, it may be similar to dilute battery acid (as mentioned) but isn’t a battery.

    @captainpyro, lol

  • power

    June 27, 2010

    If it is a giant battery… Why not try to harness the power?

  • captainpyro

    April 21, 2010

    I hear they call it the Buttehole.


    February 6, 2009

    For some reason, this truly intrigues me. I plan a trip out west this summer and I think I’m going to add this to my list of places to see. I’d love to know more about the microbes!

Any comments?