We’ve all heard about the Chernobyl, Fukushima or Three Mile Island accidents that had a tremendous effect on the surrounding environment. And even though these disasters were terrible, they were one-time occurrences and were handled and contained rather quickly. However, there are places still places out there that have been and continue to be polluted even to this day. And the worst part is that many of us have never even heard of them – just take Geamăna, Romania for example.
Geamăna is a small Romanian village located in a valley in the Apuseni Mountains. Back in 1978, the location was designated to become the largest copper mine in all of Romania and the 1,000 residents of the village were swiftly relocated. German photographer Andy Schwetz recently decided to visit the valley to see what remains of the village and how the copper mine affected the environment, and the photos he shared will send a shiver down your spine – see them in the gallery below.
#1 The Water Grave
The photographer first became aware of Geamăna after reading about it in a travel blog and decided to visit it about a year later. “As we slowly got closer to my goal, the environment changed noticeably. Abandoned mine buildings and ingrown vehicles lined the path left and right,” recalled Andy. “The civilization declined and I was slowly noticing that which always attracts me to such tragic places. An intense oppressive feeling which triggers an uneasiness. A depressive aura spreads and, paradoxically, I feel comfortable with it. Because it triggers the emotion necessary for my pictures in order to put myself fully in this environment.”
#4 The Poisonous Lagoon
When Andy finally reached the shore, he couldn’t believe his eyes and was left speechless. “The surface seemed to be stone, crisscrossed with dozens of small water veins. If you approached the shore a bit, you saw that the “stone” was actually a muddy, slightly loamy porridge,” the photographer described the lake that loomed in the valley.
“In the background, you could see the outlines of the huge copper mine that is responsible for this eerie landscape. The Roșia Poieni mine produces around 11,000 tons of copper annually. If you think about this amount more carefully, you can imagine how large is the amount of toxic chemicals that are separated from the copper ore by flotation. Meanwhile, the size of this collecting basin is 360 hectares,” said the photographer.
#5 Deceptive Beauty
#6 Apocalyptic Prospects
The crew then drove to another spot on the bank and shot some drone footage. “The colors that the lake then reveals are downright bizarre. From blood red to rust-brown to azure blue, yellow, and gray. The consistency is also different. Sometimes algae, sometimes so rigid that you can actually walk a few meters on it. And the muddy poison soup keeps rising,” shared Andy.
#7 We Build Bridges
Turns out there are still 11 families that live in the toxic valley although Andy guessed that they might soon have to leave. A church used to stand on a small mountain above the lake but due to the sludge rising around a whopping 90 cm (35.4 in) every year, there’s only the top of the tower left visible and even that could be gone in a few years.
The company then headed to the old cemetery of Vinta although the small church that used to stand there was nowhere to be seen. “But when we saw the first tombstones sticking out of the water, we knew that the location was right. But where was the church?” questioned the photographer. “Later we found out that the old church had already been removed, and the cemetery is now almost completely devoured by the (here algae green) water, with only 2-3 pairs of gravestones and crosses still protruding from the water. It seems that the dead are slowly buried a second time.”
#10 Farewell Again
Another thing that the photographer noticed was the absence of all life – he didn’t even notice any mosquitoes despite spending almost a full day near the water. “Even if the current mine operator claims that the water is clean according to the given guide values, I can hardly believe it,” said Andy. “How is that supposed to be the case with everything you perceive here? It is hardly conceivable that the groundwater of the people still living here will not be affected.”
#11 Apocalyptic Prospects
#12 The End Of The World
“In the afternoon, we reached the southern outskirts of Geamăna. There we came across an old lady who was busy feeding her animals. She looked very fragile on the one hand but was very brisk on the move and I admired her steadfastness,” recalled Andy. “Life here is certainly hard and not fair, but she seemed to make the best of it. As I learned later in a documentary, this is one of the last houses of the former place where she has lived all her life. But it seems that she will soon have to leave the place where she grew up, where she buried her husband in 2012, and what she calls home.”
#13 We Burn Bridges
#14 Dead Structures
“When I looked at the pictures at home again, I reviewed my impressions and emotions, and also why I am always drawn to such tragic places,” pondered the photographer. “Above all, I became aware that in addition to the major tragedies on our planet, there were also many small and little-known catastrophes and how important it is to document them as long as this is still possible.”
#15 It’s Not A Beach
“The culprits for this ecological fate can no longer be held accountable and the current mine operators are now responsible, but in the end, they also must somehow live with the circumstances that were once created. For the rest of the people, it is better to find a new home early than late. Their homes will disappear forever in the muddy masses, but certainly not from their hearts,” concluded Andy.
#18 Never Surrender
#19 The Tide Is Coming And Will Take Everything From You
#20 Toxic Rhein