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Even the Worst Laid Plans?

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Soren Wheeler takes us to Butte Montana--where an open pit copper mine’s demise leads to a toxic lake filled with corrosive runoff. Reporter Barret Golding goes to visit the pit lake, and writer Edwin Dobb tells Soren the story of a pile of dead snow geese who made an ill-fated landing on the water. Soren also talks to husband-and-wife chemists Andrea Stierle and Don Stierle, whose startling discovery reveals the secret life inside a death trap.

Produced by:

Soren Wheeler

Comments [24]

Deb Filipovich from Duluth, MN

Hi -
I heard this story regarding the Berkeley Pit lake in Butte, MT a while back. I found it extremely interesting how nature is taking care of itself. Is it too soon for an update story? Thanks!

Mar. 11 2018 03:34 PM
Amy from California

Chills up and down my spine. This and Lulu's story are perfect reminders of just how amazing this world is and how incredibly small we are in comparison. Awe inspiring!

May. 15 2017 10:54 PM
boso de niro from San Jose. KQED

talk about disruption, who knows, them little critters from the rectal swabs o' geese may put Henrietta Lacks and her HeLa HeLa cells outta binness and on the dung heaps of science

May. 13 2017 11:07 PM
Pat Munday from Butte America

Great story, great scientists. I'm proud to say I used to work with the Stierles at a little college in Butte America before they moved to the greener pastures of the University of Montana in Missoula.

Jun. 26 2014 06:36 PM
Bovis Presley from Georgia, USA

The ending of the Berkeley Pit story blew me away. It suggests to me that the planet itself is intelligent. We may make the planet unfit for human habitation and humanity may perish, but Gaia will heal herself. We would benefit by honoring and showing respect to our Earth mother and learning how to be nurturing stewards of the planet.

May. 19 2014 08:27 PM
David Haley

Great story. I hope I can find a version without the shish bam boom crazy noisy production. I want to share it with my friends but the silly sound effects and interuptive splicing make it hard to focus on the story.

Jul. 11 2013 10:50 AM

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Nov. 18 2012 03:05 AM
Sally Fries from Buffalo, NY

Amazing! The piece about the Berkeley Pit was mind blowing - especially the ending. I love listening to this program online because I can immediatly look up anything that is mentioned during the show. Images of the Berkeley Pit are at once forboding and fantasitcal - like something out of a science fiction movie. I wonder about the oldest tree, though. How do they know the other trees there aren't older?

Thanks for an amazing listening experience. :)

Aug. 09 2012 11:16 AM
Jason S from Monrovia, CA

Just heard this segment played on 89.3 KPCC in Southern California and I found it to be a very compelling piece. Incredible interesting topic, and great delivery. Great show, now I get to explore all these podcasts!

Feb. 11 2012 07:31 PM
Torben Hennessey from Portland, Or

I just listened to your show for the first time on npr about an hour ago. you guys are... there's no words to describe. you know when the sun is setting in hawai'i, it's on the horizon, sinking slowly, the color of pure liquid gold emitting light, contained in a perfect circle? that's you guys.

Jun. 30 2011 01:41 AM

The miracles of biology and chance may not be "GOD" actions, but still miracles. Every couple of months we humans find some new life-form in an environment that we never would have expected. Arsenides as opposed to phosphates, hot sulfur pools, black-smokers, white-smokers, odd pH pools with various heavy metals.

We find all these evolutionary wonders, knowing they evolve over generations that cycle in days rather than decades or scores, and are amazed, but I do not see that "GOD put that here specifically for the purpose".

Amazed? Yes. GOD? Maybe the tools were built into the original design, but the activation of them was "The Way" (Tao). This could be defined by evolution, not the "directed intervention of an intelligent being of any form". This is still a miracle of life, and no less wonderful.

Jun. 01 2011 08:38 PM

Oh for the love of criminy...why do the religious insist on injecting their views into *everything*?!

This is an astonishing coincidence, but nothing more. Geese land on lakes, they happened to land on a toxic one, and an unforeseen chemical reaction occurred. It's amazing, but it proves *nothing* as to the existence of a deity.

What you religious people have to realize is that if your god supposedly influenced these geese to land in this lake, then he also willed the lake to become toxic in the first place. He allowed the environment to become poisoned, he allowed people & fowl to die, just so he could prove this "miracle".

Does that really sound like something or someone you'd want to worship? Because it sure doesn't to me.

May. 22 2011 11:54 AM
Linda Merle from New Kensington, PA

Thank you SO much for this story. I've posted it to a couple lists and groups that I belong to. Now THIS is news. Why haven't we heard about this on the non-news, busily covering whether or not Prince William should have a pre-nup, something that's none of our business anyway?

Definitely at God moment. It would be prefect if we could confirm that geese were the reincarnations of the management of the Anaconda Copper Mine.

Apr. 05 2011 10:18 AM
Nick Hansen from Guadalajara, Mexico

To Mike Johnson from Springboro, Ohio... Lol!

Jan. 23 2011 02:24 PM
Mike Johnson from Springboro, Ohio

What are the chances that snow geese flying over this lake would land in it, die, and defecate into the lake the very organism that would be its salvation? To me this is an OMG moment! This is definitely a God thing... and for you non-believers out there, I can't think of much better proof that God is in control.

Jan. 03 2011 10:37 PM
Soledad Robledo from Santiago

When I heard Nasa today I went "I think I've heard this before..." Yes! Radiolab! Wow! Does Wiki Leaks have anything to do with this announcement?

Dec. 02 2010 06:16 PM
Mark from Irvine, CA

Love this episode! Does anyone know if this is related to the recent NASA announcement (Dec. 2 2010) about arsenic based life forms?

Dec. 02 2010 03:02 PM
Karen from Missoula, MT

I just heard the Butte Pit story about the ducks, etc. The end blew me out of the water. I live in Missoula and had not heard what you reported. Amazing. I wonder how long it will take these new critters to neutralize the water? You very talented people do great work! Thank you so much for such great programs as this one.

Sep. 23 2010 06:26 PM
Rooster from Denver, Colorado

Thanks. Heard this the other night... and had to do that sit in the car in front of the house thing. That means it was freakin awesome!

Sep. 23 2010 02:52 AM
Lynn Calvin from Clifton Park NY

This was an important and well-written piece, but suffered from the artsy-fartsy editing technique of jumping from one speaker to another speaker in the middle of sentences. That was annoying, distracting and ultimately a big turn-off. If that's a technique all your broadcasts employ, you haven't gained me as an enthusiastic listener. You might also include in the broadcasts some more references for further reading on the subject.

Sep. 20 2010 09:59 AM
Tony from Richmond,va- but still a new yorker

Love it ,I have become a radiolab-head

Sep. 17 2010 04:04 PM
Eugenie L. Wagner from Ann Arbor MI Americans age, even with glasses, their eyes are getting worse. Please, please enlarge the print on you website so that all may benefit from your informative posts, and comments. Please take under consideration for future posts.

Aug. 18 2010 07:15 PM
Chris Knight from Santa Clara

In my two visits to Yellowstone we flew into Butte both times--first time 'cause the flight couldn't continue to Bozeman, second time 'cause I liked Butte so much.

Butte's a neat mining town in a neat area, and now I find out there's a neat lake I saw while flying in? I can't wait to go back.

Favorite memory was seeing The Clintons at the Silver Dollar saloon. Best 4.5 hours of my life, they jammed straight from 9pm to 1:30am.

I wonder if extremophiles from Yellowstone might make the jump to Lake Berkeley?

Jul. 09 2010 06:06 PM
Henry Tarwater

This was a great article. I was born in Butte, Montana. I'll be going back there for the 4th of July to visit family. It's one of the few places in the country where you can light fireworks inside city limits, which makes the 4th an incredible spectacle, not only because fireworks are going off in every direction imaginable but because half the town is on fire.

Another interesting thing to note about the Berkeley Pit: Butte markets it as a tourist attraction. It does the same with its red-light district. Tourism is really the only industry the town has left.

Jun. 30 2010 08:06 PM

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