How Much Do You Know About the Berkeley Pit?
By angelamontana


With the recent reports of snow geese landing at Butte, Montana’s infamous Berkeley Pit and dying, it made me wonder how much people actually know about the site.  A friend of mine sent me some information on it, and it definitely makes you realize just how serious this situation is.  Just to summarize, here is a list of some facts that you may not have known:

  • The Berkeley Pit is one mile long by half a mile wide
  • The depth of the Berkely Pit is 1,780 feet with heavily contaminated water filled to a dept of 900 feet.
  • The acidic water in the Berkeley Pit has a pH level of 2.5, which is about the same acidity of lemon juice or cola.
  • Some of the dangerous chemicals and heavy metals in the pit include copper, arsenic, cadmium, zinc and sulfuric acid.
  • The mine was opened in 1955 and closed in 1982–ironically, on Earth Day.
  • Since the pit closed in ’82, the water level has risen to within 150 feet of the natural groundwater level.
  • The extremely dangerous water in the pit is expected to reach the natural water table by 2020, which will cause the water to reverse flow back into the surrounding groundwater, which would pollute Silver Bow Creek, which is the headwaters of the Clark Fork River.
  • The water contains so much dissolved metal, some material is mined directly from the water.
  • In the ’90s, a plan was devised to divert the water to slow the rise of the water level, and plans have been made for more extensive treatment in the future.  Since then, the Berkeley Pit has become one of the largest Superfund sites.
  • The Berkeley Pit is a tourist attraction in Butte, with a $2 admission fee and a viewing platform.  There is even a gift shop there, too.

I don’t know about you, but after learning this information, it makes me hope that something serious happens before the water level reaches our natural water table level.  Having this toxic water pollute waters such as the Clark Fork River would be a monstrous disaster for fish and other wildlife–not to mention it would affect our water recreation activities among other things.  So, the next time you read about something involving the Berkeley Pit Mine, now you at least know that this is not a situation that should be swept under the rug or set aside for too long–if at all.

For more information on the Berkeley Pit mine and the latest updates, visit the Pit Watch website at www.pitwatch.org.

(Feature photo via pitwatch.org)





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