Access to the village is technically unauthorized. Image courtesy of the author.
Access to the village is technically unauthorized. Image courtesy of the author.

Romanian’s communist aftermath is still gathering in a toxic Transylvanian lake. The village of Geamăna, is nestled on its shore, host to a sparse and private population which peeks out of their windows as you coast by the five hut village on the restricted access mining road that leads to the toxic lake. Affirmation that the huts were indeed occupied was from the smoke rising from their chimneys and voices heard while I was investigating the shoreline, out of their direct line of sight. Nestled in a Transylvanian valley of the Apuseni Mountains, the area and roads surrounding the village are reminiscent of the West Virginian mining country. That is until you are greeted by an insanely massive toxic wasteland.

The Transylvania toxic lake is the runoff of the adjacent copper mining operation, headquartered in Rosia Poieni. The village of Geamăna is now the decantation basin of Rosia Poieni. It is rumored that several other local villages, were also swallowed up for the same purpose, but I was unable to find any real evidence of this hearsay. It is known that the Geamăna decantation basin is currently estimated at 130 hectares, and is holding approximately 30 million tons of toxic waste.

Shoreside of the basin. Image courtesy of the author.
Shoreside of the basin. Image courtesy of the author.

The village was initially damned, in both ways starting in 1977, when Romania’s communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu authorized copper exploitation in Rosia Poieni, which at the time was speculated to be the largest deposit in Europe, although regional reports from this time period are well known for exaggeration. By 1978 an estimated 350 families or 1,000 civilians depending on the reports were expropriated by the communist regime and relocated to cities as part of Ceausescu’s other schema to depopulate villages, to reinforce the urban industrial workforce.

Facts about the status of the current residents are unreliable and often come with a fantastic tall tale. While questioning locals and those familiar with the site, the primary stories are that the remaining villagers either simply refused to be removed or in some way or another stood up to the officials who imposed the forced expropriation. A more realistic assessment would list the current occupants as illegal squatters, which is a largescale issue in Romania; an issue that also heavily plagues the historical buildings of the capital city, Bucharest.

Curbside at the inhabited portion of the village. Image courtesy of the author.
Curbside at the inhabited portion of the village. Image courtesy of the author.

The current villagers now occupy only the north western basin, hillside of the ever-rising toxic lake. Mining operations have seized the entire south and east sides, with a main supply route running from the northeast to connect active mining operations on the south side and north western basin. The western rim, is clearly an alternate access route for mining operations, but what areas have not collapsed have left a few dotted signs of an abandoned life on the hillsides. There I was able to find off route parking. down the hill, near a traditional storehouse. And to simple dumb-luck, this spot is also approximately 300 meters from the villages, now cleared out, power relay station.

The abandoned traditional storehouse. Image courtesy of the author.
The abandoned traditional storehouse. Image courtesy of the author.

From this base, I was first greeted by the true stench of the area. The smell is first detectable as you enter the Rosia Poieni area, but being in a moving car dampens its real power. Once you really stop, your breath will be taken away for the extent of your visit. Now mouth-breathing and off route, I was able to scout the area unmolested by the villagers and miners. I made my way down the hillside to the few areas of the shoreline that was directly accessible. There I conducted splash tests using crabapples, on the thick layer of bad pancake batter toxic waste that blanketed the lake, with the few exceptions where the trapped air bubbled to the surface from the bottom of the lake.

The crabapples were surprisingly in hearty supply. Crabapple trees were only a portion of the dense vegetation that filled the hillsides with impassable undergrowth covered with a tangled canopy. Yet animal life was nearly nonexistence with the exception of passing birds and some very strange holes, which I suspect are from that of burrowing animal of which I am not aware of. I was not able to reach the regional zoologist, so my best current theory involves teenage mutant ninja badgers. Also unaccounted for were the buildings shown in other articles about this sites. From within the lake itself, there was only one object present that may or may not have been a building at one time.

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Crabapple testing site. Image courtesy of the author.
Crabapple testing site. Image courtesy of the author.

The Geamăna site is a haunting reminder of communism and a sharknado of modern corruption. The smell of Geamăna, reflects the smell of the untenable and criminally influenced Romanian government. Yet the cause and reasoning is more easily understood in Geamăna which contains a high concentration of pyrite. Pyrite, when exposed to a state of oxidizing decomposition, the pyrite in a natural chemical process generates sulfuric acid and trivalent iron. The resulting smell is but one of the problems, traces of toxic substances such as sulfuric acid and heavy metals from the mining operations have contaminated the local groundwater table and there is unsupported speculation, that the nearby Aries River could also be contaminated

Ground and river water contamination is a realistic concern, as the hydrological cycle of the local groundwater leads to the Aries River, which is one of the largest of the Mures River’s tributaries. Contamination of the Mures River spreads the sites waste to the Tisza River and the Danube. Thus resulting in the real potential for negative ecological impact across Europe and well into Siberia, as the lake is simply dammed with rocks. The water making its way into the lake play host to a number of other know chemical substances, while rocking a pH scale average of 1.5 (gastric acid) to 2 (lemon juice, vinegar). Common testable substances from the periodic table found in the water are arsenic, cadmium, copper, chromium, iron, manganese, and zirconium. Cadmium is the largest pollutant found in the lake, at ten times the normal value of cadmium concentration in water to which is <5 µg/L. Cadmium, can cause mutations and dangers to animals and certain plant life; in humans cadmium can lead to complications of the liver, lungs and/or kidneys.

The abandoned power relay station. Image courtesy of the author.
The abandoned power relay station. Image courtesy of the author.

Despite these known findings and contaminated water concerns, the Romanian state which owns and operates the Rosia Poieni mine continues operations as it was still 1978. Authorization and environmental exceptions to permit ongoing operations status quo in the Apuseni Mountains from the Alba Agency for Environmental Protection goes unchecked. Allegedly the Romanian National Anti-Corruption Agency launched a 2014 investigation, which has yet to be resolved into this ongoing licensing of this facility; on behest of the European Union. A realistic outcome is not expected anytime soon.

Yes, I really went there and I now hope to get mutant powers. Image courtesy of the author.
Yes, I really went there and I now hope to get mutant powers. Image courtesy of the author.