National Geographic: The grotesque beauty of mining waste

The Roșia Poieni copper mine appears like a wound on Romania’s Apuseni Mountains. An open-pit mine operated by a state-owned company, it draws from the largest copper deposit in the country. In 1978, needing somewhere to discard the mine’s waste, President Nicolae Ceaușescu initiated the removal of residents from the neighboring village of Geamăna. Water and the mine’s sludge were then released into the village and the Şesii Valley, forming an artificial, partly viscous lake, according to National Geographic.

Gheorghe Popa grew up about two hours away by car, in the town of Aiud, at the base of the Apuseni Mountains. A pharmacist and nature photographer, Popa first encountered the dumping site in 2014. “To this day,” he wrote in the Romanian edition of National Geographic, “I can’t forget that chemical smell that even filled my mouth.” The unearthly scene mesmerized him: amid an otherwise picturesque mountain range, a lake tie-dyed in swirls of yellow, red, orange, and turquoise.

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