The Pit of Life and Death is a pit of greenish poison a mile and a half wide and over a third of a mile deep. It used to be a thriving copper mine, but its “Richest Hill in the World” days are over. Over a billion tons of copper ore, silver, gold, and other metals were extracted from the former mine in southwestern Montana in the city of Butte. What may surprise you is just how determined mother nature is to clean up the mess humanity leaves behind.
It was made by “mountaintop removal,” when in the 1950’s it was far too costly to continue underground mines. By 1983 the mine stopped producing anything profitable and it was shut down. After a few years without water pumps, the collecting water absorbed some of the minerals from the surrounding rock, turning it to the poisonous green. “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.” (Richard Solensky) Recently they have found out that a floating pile of green sludge, contained life.
But why is it The Pit of Life and Death? What killed a flock of 342 migrating geese in 1995, hosts a living organism.
A protozoan that creates its own shelter through photosynthesis, is surviving against the odds. This makes our little slimy green friend a extremophile. Where many organisms perish, these things flourish. The best part about it? The slime cleans up the mess. The surrounding minerals and metals are absorbed and when the slime dies, it sinks to the bottom, taking the threat to its grave.
This is also one more step further in the fight against cancer too. It turns out, five of the chemicals inside of the ooze have anti cancerous properties. They know this because they did the brine shrimp lethality test, a standardized test in finding out if something could possibly fight cancer. It turns out, many compounds which attack cancer cells are also harmful to brine shrimp, but no one really knows why.
For a Google map position of the site, click here.
The mine had a mascot
A mysterious stray dog, nicknamed The Auditor, has been the mascot of the mine since 1986 when it was first seen roaming around the area. He got his nickname from employees in the area after the dog would show up when “least expected.” (As an auditor would) “Human contact was something the elusive mongrel avoided when at all possible. Former employees said you could feed the foxes and coyotes by hand long before The Auditor would accept a handout.” (Montana Standard) He recently died at the ripe old age of 120 dog years, and lived out his entire life around the mysterious pit. He looked feisty, sporting white dreadlocks. For a picture, click here.
A very off-the-wall side note
Next to our pit’s city of Butte, is a town called Dick. Due to its geographical movement, Dick will be inside Butte within a million years… Have fun with that joke e2.