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The Pit of Life and Death

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posted on Jun, 6 2010 @ 11:35 PM
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Hey ATS this is an article about the Berkley Pit in Butte Montana. This pit is highly toxic and was formerly a huge mining site that has since become a harmful cesspool that is one of the most toxic places on earth.

Flocks of geese have landed in the area to rest and have died in large amounts along with other animals but there is some life living in the pit that could hold new organisms that could help cure cancer among other things.




Just outside Butte, Montana lies a pit of greenish poison a mile and a half wide and over a third of a mile deep. It hasn’t always been so – it was once a thriving copper mine appropriately dubbed “The Richest Hill in the World.” Over a billion tons of copper ore, silver, gold, and other metals were extracted from the rock of southwestern Montana, making the mining town of Butte one of the richest communities in the country, as well as feeding America’s industrial might for nearly a hundred years. By the middle of the twentieth century, the Anaconda Mining Company was in charge of virtually all the mining operations.

When running underground mines became too costly in the 1950’s, Anaconda switched to the drastic but effective methods of “mountaintop removal” and open pit mining. Huge amounts of copper were needed to satisfy the growing demand for radios, televisions, telephones, automobiles, computers, and all the other equipment of America’s post-war boom. As more and more rock was excavated, groundwater began to seep into the pit, and pumps had to be installed to keep it from slowly flooding.







By 1983, the hill was so exhausted that the Anaconda Mining Company was no longer able to extract minerals in profitable amounts. They packed up all the equipment that they could move, shut down the water pumps, and moved on to more lucrative scraps of Earth.

Without the pumps, rain and groundwater gradually began to collect in the pit, leaching out the metals and minerals in the surrounding rock. The water became as acidic as lemon juice, creating a toxic brew of heavy metal poisons including arsenic, lead, and zinc. No fish live there, and no plants line the shores. There aren’t even any insects buzzing about. The Berkeley Pit had become one of the deadliest places on earth, too toxic even for microorganisms. Or so it was thought.







In 1995, an analytic chemist named William Chatham saw something unusual in the allegedly lifeless lake: a small clump of green slime floating on the water’s surface. He snagged a sample and brought it to biologist Grant Mitman at the nearby Montana Tech campus of the University of Montana, where Mitman found to his amazement that the goop was a mass of single-celled algae.

He called in fellow Tech faculty Andrea and Don Stierle, experts in the biochemistry of microorganisms. The Stierles had recently been trekking about the northwest, looking for cancer-fighting compounds in local fungi with great success. Coincidentally, the Stierles’ funding had just run out, and they needed a new project. They leapt at the opportunity to study these bizarre organisms.







After examining the slime under a microscope, the researchers identified it as Euglena mutabilis, a protozoan which has the remarkable ability of being able to survive in the toxic waters of the Berkeley Pit by altering its local environment to something more hospitable.

Through photosynthesis, it increases the oxygen level in the water, which causes dissolved metals to oxidize and precipitate out. In addition, it pulls iron out of the water and sequesters it inside of itself.

This makes it a classic example of an extremophile. Euglena mutabilisEuglena mutabilisExtremophiles are organisms that can tolerate and even thrive in environments that will destroy most other living things. Some can even repair their own damaged DNA, a trait which makes them extremely interesting to cancer researchers. The Stierles reasoned that where there’s one extremophile, there may be others – most likely blown in by the wind.

Given their previous successes with strange microorganisms, the researchers believed that the Berkeley Pit and its fledgling extremophile population could produce some medically useful chemicals.


Follow this link to read the entire article there is more interesting information.
www.damninteresting.com...-961

Here is a picture of the pit before it became full of liquid.


And here is a link to view the pit from google earth.
maps.google.ca...



[edit on 6-6-2010 by TV_Nation]




posted on Jun, 6 2010 @ 11:45 PM
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Very interesting.

Amazing how nature can adapt where we fail.

I loaded the Google map and noticed that if you follow what looks like some sort of water outlet leading into the pit....it leads back to some sort of plant. Not sure, but it almost looks like a water treatment plant??



posted on Jun, 6 2010 @ 11:48 PM
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Great thread, I found the part about it being able to oxidize heavy metals and excrete them really interesting. Thanks for posting this!



posted on Jun, 6 2010 @ 11:53 PM
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Originally posted by westcoast
Very interesting.

Amazing how nature can adapt where we fail.

I loaded the Google map and noticed that if you follow what looks like some sort of water outlet leading into the pit....it leads back to some sort of plant. Not sure, but it almost looks like a water treatment plant??


You could be right about there being a water treatment plant there. In the article they said that the liquid could be very valuable due to all of the heavy metals and minerals it has leached out of the rocks.



posted on Jun, 6 2010 @ 11:58 PM
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Nice thread OP!

I have read a few articles about the site over the past few years.

Here is some more articles about the area, and a good source of information, as well as contact information for the group if any are interested in learning more.

Also a virtual tour can be found here.

Peace.



posted on Jun, 7 2010 @ 12:05 AM
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reply to post by TV_Nation
 


Great thread Op! Extremophiles are amazing aren't they.

The thing that worries me the most is that there are so many houses within close vicinity to that toxic lake. You certainly wouldn't want to be drawing bore water from anywhere near that town.

IRM



posted on Jun, 7 2010 @ 12:30 PM
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Originally posted by InfaRedMan
reply to post by TV_Nation
 


Great thread Op! Extremophiles are amazing aren't they.

The thing that worries me the most is that there are so many houses within close vicinity to that toxic lake. You certainly wouldn't want to be drawing bore water from anywhere near that town.

IRM


I agree extremophiles are pretty neat and it's amazing how well they can adapt to extreme environments.



posted on Jun, 7 2010 @ 12:30 PM
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Originally posted by InfaRedMan
reply to post by TV_Nation
 


Great thread Op! Extremophiles are amazing aren't they.

The thing that worries me the most is that there are so many houses within close vicinity to that toxic lake. You certainly wouldn't want to be drawing bore water from anywhere near that town.

IRM


I agree extremophiles are pretty neat and it's amazing how well they can adapt to extreme environments.




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