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Geamana: The Toxic Village
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Geamana: The Toxic Village

Once, in Geamăna, in the Apuseni Mountains, there was a village. Now, it is almost entirely covered by waste from the copper quarry at Roșia Poieni. The locals were forced to move higher up the village year after year to escape the invasion of waste, which over time covered their church and swallowed their cemetery.

The transformation of the area began in 1977 when Nicolae Ceaușescu decided to allow copper mining at Roșia Poieni. At the time, it was the largest in Europe. Initially, the residents of the nearly 400 houses probably imagined they would become rich, but it didn’t turn out that way. In the early 1980s, over 300 families in Geamăna were expropriated by the Romanian state. The amounts they received depended on their properties.

In 1986, when waste dumping began, over 1,000 people lived here. Now, in the small cottages scattered along a few kilometers around the lake filled with turbid waste from the copper quarry, only about 20 people remain.

The remaining houses were placed higher up on the hill, as the locals say. The village church was also built on the hill, about 100 meters from the village center. It is one of the few witnesses that show there was once a human settlement here. However, the waste has reached the roof level. Below the church, in the Şeşii Valley, lies the lake filled with the red-tinted waste from the Roșia Poieni copper quarry. Until nearly three decades ago, this was the heart of the Geamana village.

“The first bad sign was when the cherry and plum trees started to wither. Maybe they sensed the poison that was then only underground. What you see happening here began in the late 1970s. Then, the streams that flowed here turned red one by one, as if you poured blood into them,” says one of the remaining residents of Geamăna, Nicolaie Praţa. His property is like an island between two of the poisoned streams, as he calls them. A few hundred meters from the white mountain of waste and about the same distance from the artificial lake. Bunul Neculai, as his neighbors call him, has a trembling voice when I ask him about the expropriations carried out by the state in the 1980s and why he chose to stay here.

The Chronicle of the Village’s Destruction

“When the authorities came for expropriation, they didn’t want to take all the land I had; I still had many hectares left. I didn’t receive too much money either. Then, we thought about how to leave behind everything we built here and leave. That’s how we ended up seeing these poisoned streams, how house after house sank, the tavern where the villagers used to gather, and then the church, as you can see, it’s also sinking. In my opinion, the village will be dead when the church is completely covered by waste,” Niculai Praţa vehemently states.

How did the village of Geamăna, a kind of “Bărăgan al Lupşii” as his wife calls it, become almost deserted? Niculai answers this question too. He retrieves a chronicle of destruction from some yellowed papers, a student notebook where he recorded his memories. This tells us how many houses are still standing in each hamlet. “Here, this was the village of Şasa, there are only 4 houses left, in Trifeşti, there are 5 houses. Everything was destroyed. There are villages that no longer exist on the map, only a few forgotten souls remain there, like us,” the elderly man says.

He Sought Justice from Queen Elizabeth

Convinced that he was being manipulated by the state, he wrote several memoirs to ministers and even had audiences in Bucharest. He had heard that England was the country where justice was sacred, so he made the curse that had befallen the village of Geamăna and the Queen known through a letter.

€15 Million for Environmental Solutions

The waste from the Roșia Poieni copper quarry ends up in the Valea Şesii pond, as the locals know it. The artificial lake is a decantation pond, open, located between two slopes. More precisely, it has only one dam. The latest estimates show that it covers over 130 hectares. The risk is enormous if the water in the pond is not properly treated because the dam is a natural factory for sulfuric acid. The danger increases every time there is heavy rain in the area. The license for the Roșia Poieni copper mine belongs to the Cupumin Abrud company.

The most recent evaluations by the Minister of the Environment indicate that environmental investments of €15 million are needed in the area. The integrated environmental permit issued by the Sibiu Regional Environmental Protection Agency for the decantation ponds and waste heaps resulting from the extraction-processing process expired at the end of 2011. Before the Revolution, there were 3,000 employees working in the Roșia Poieni copper mine. Now, there are only 200. An attempt was made to privatize the company in Apuseni in March 2012, which ended in failure.



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