Abandoned places are generally unsafe to visit because of crumbling infrastructure or other security issues. However, some places around the world were abandoned due to high levels of toxicity in the environment, including hazardous chemicals like asbestos and mercury, radiation, and even bioweapons.
10. Geamana, Romania
Geamana was once an idyllic Romanian village nestled within a fertile valley. Today, it’s an eerie, toxic wasteland you might want to stay away from. It all started in 1978, when the communist regime under Nicolae Ceausescu decided to exploit a vast underground copper deposit near the nearby Ro?ia Poieni mining pit. In just a year, the villagers of Geamana were forcibly evacuated to make way for the toxic waste from the mining operations.
Around 400 families left their homes for new places across the country, receiving land and limited compensation in return. Geamana was soon replaced by an artificial lake that served as a catch-basin for the mine’s contaminated sludge, which was then pumped full of cyanide and other chemicals from the mining process.
Today, all that remains is the town’s church rising above the toxic waters and a few houses higher up the hill that refused to be relocated, with most of its buildings and infrastructure submerged.
9. Salton City, California
Located in the southeastern corner of California, Salton City was originally envisioned as a bustling resort community on the shores of Salton Sea – a man-made saline lake created in 1905. The area flourished in the mid-1900s, attracting tourists and celebrities like Frank Sinatra and the Beach Boys.
Since then, it has transformed into a post-apocalyptic ghost town. Most homes were either demolished or never built, and the lake – which could barely be called a lake anymore – has become toxic due to high salinity.
The decline of Salton City can be attributed to many factors, including lack of environmental regulations and adequate water management. Rising salinity levels and contamination from agricultural runoff have led to the collapse of the lake’s ecosystem, causing many bird and fish species to die off. These problems have had severe public health consequences, with toxic fumes and dust posing a major public health risk to anyone daring enough to still live there.
8. Wittenoom, Australia
According to the government warning signs around the outback town of Wittenoom, Australia, the environment is so toxic that merely breathing the air could kill you. Set up in the 1930s as a mining town for asbestos, it’s now one of the most toxic ghost towns in the world. Thanks to deadly levels of asbestos found in almost every part of the town, its population was completely evacuated, along with its erasure from official maps and disconnection from the power grid to prevent further exposure.
Despite the severe health risks and official warnings, the town continues to attract ‘extreme tourism’ influencers from around the world, and some even bring their pets with them. Authorities have often compared Wittenoom to other major public health tragedies in history, like Chernobyl and Bhopal. Even today, the air around the town is full of toxic asbestos fibers, making it one of the most dangerous abandoned towns in the world.
7. Picher, Oklahoma
Located in Ottawa County in northeastern Oklahoma, Picher was once a bustling mining community with thousands of inhabitants. Founded in 1918, it primarily produced lead and zinc ore, reaching its peak population of over 14,000 in 1926. It was an important supply center during the two World Wars, as lead and zinc were required for the production of many weapons.
As mining activity declined over the years, the population steadily dropped. In 1967, when lead and zinc mining stopped completely, the mines began to fill with water, leading to environmental contamination throughout the region.
In response to the growing environmental concerns, the US Environmental Protection Agency declared Picher uninhabitable in 2009, with a buyout program for residents to relocate. Today, it’s easily one of the most toxic places in America, with mountains of contaminated waste and open mine shafts scattered across the region.
6. Namie-machi, Japan
Namie-machi is a ghost town in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan. It was once a thriving settlement with over 20,000 residents, though everything changed in March, 2011, when Japan was struck by an earthquake and tsunami. The disaster led to meltdowns at the nearby Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, resulting in widespread radioactive fallout and the evacuation of all residents. A 12-mile exclusion zone was established, making the entire town off-limits.
In April 2012, the town was divided into three zones based on the levels of radioactive contamination. Over time, zones one and two were declared safe, allowing former residents to return. Zone three, the most contaminated area, however, remains strictly out-of-bounds.
5. Centralia, Pennsylvania
Centralia in Columbia County, Pennsylvania, was once a coal-mining town with around 1,500 residents. In 1962, an accidental fire started in the town dump, which then spread beneath the surface. It wasn’t until 1979, though, that the gravity of the situation became clear, as measurements taken by the local gas station indicated dangerously-high surface temperatures. The fire kept burning, forcing many people to evacuate due to the toxic environment. Only 63 people remained in 1990, and by 2012, the total population of the town was 10.
Today, Centralia resembles a fictional post-apocalyptic city, with the fire still burning deep inside due to the presence of coal deposits. The streets are completely abandoned and deserted, many buildings have been demolished, and most roads don’t lead anywhere. Occasionally, one can spot smoke rising from the ground, as the ongoing fire constantly fills the air with toxic gases like carbon monoxide.
4. New Idria, California
Named after the New Idria Mercury mine, the town of New Idria was founded during the California Gold Rush. The mercury played an important role in gold-ore extraction, making it the second-most productive mercury mine in the country. That wouldn’t last long, however, as mercury mining is one of the most environmentally-degrading activities out there. Mining waste eventually contaminated the groundwater and forced the mine’s closure in 1972, and high levels of ground and water contamination eventually led to the complete evacuation of the area.
Due to mercury and other heavy metals draining into nearby creeks, the EPA designated New Idria as a Superfund site in 2011. The town is extremely toxic today, thanks to three types of mercury that could be found in its water and soil, including a lethal neurotoxin called monomethyl mercury. Contaminated water even flows downstream into San Carlos and Panoche creeks, carrying its toxic waste to other places in the region.
3. Bento Rodrigues, Brazil
Bento Rodrigues is a small village in Brazil’s Minas Gerais state, mostly known for the infamous environmental disaster that happened here on November 5, 2015. Due to the bursting of a tailings dam owned by Samarco – a joint venture between Vale and BHP Billiton – millions of tons of toxic mud were released in the region, killing 17 people and leaving many more missing and displaced.
In the years since the tragedy, the toxic mud made its way through the Rio Doce river, contaminating the region’s most important water stream and polluting the drinking water supply for thousands of people.
While Samarco was initially fined heavily, the legal battle over the payment of those fines is still ongoing. The region is still heavily-toxic today, and experts estimate that it may take decades for it to fully recover from the disaster.
2. Gilman, Colorado
Gilman was a mining town established for the extraction of silver, gold, zinc, and copper in Eagle County, Colorado. It was originally settled as Rock Creek, then Battle Mountain, and then Clinton, before adopting the name Gilman in 1886 after Henry M. Gilman. The town thrived as a busy mining hub for 99 years, with its mines yielding considerable amounts of gold and other metals in its heyday.
The downfall of Gilman was not a result of ore depletion, but rather the discovery of toxic heavy metals contaminating the drinking water. The Environmental Protection Agency intervened in 1985 and the town was declared a Superfund site, leading to the evacuation of 60 residents due to severe health risks. Today, Gilman is a part of a private property, with signs prohibiting entry and occasional monitoring to prevent trespassing.
1. Love Canal, Niagara Falls
Initially, Love Canal in Niagara Falls, New York was an abandoned canal that became a dumping ground for nearly 22,000 tons of chemical waste produced by the Hooker Chemicals and Plastics Corporation in the 1940s and 50s. The area was subsequently filled in and used for housing development, though in 1978, state officials detected the leakage of toxic chemicals into the basements of residents’ homes. Investigations revealed a high incidence of respiratory problems, liver damage, leukemia, and other forms of cancer among the residents due to long-term exposure to the toxic waste.
That led to the complete evacuation of the entire area, and the abandoned land was purchased by the state of New York. The canal was capped, fenced off, and the surrounding buildings were eventually demolished.