You’re hiking under a relentless sun through rocky terrain almost completely void of trees, wet with sweat like you just took a bath and panting endlessly. Just when you’re about to lose your cool, you come across a tranquil body of perfectly turquoise water nestled between some cliffs. Relief!
But, if this body of vibrantly blue rippling water happens to be Spain’s Lake Monte Neme, you have to resist your every urge to dive in. The pool actually poses a serious threat, but that hasn’t stopped hordes of people risking their lives to enjoy it.
The Spanish city of Carballo is exactly where you want to visit during the summer. Just look at that shoreline — it stretches for miles! But, if you venture off the beaten path, you can find something pretty extraordinary.
Take a little hike through some rocky terrain that, at first, might seem like it’s leading nowhere. But, so long as you (or a friend) know where you’re going, you come to this incredible oasis called Monte Neme!
You might feel like you’re in a dream when walking around this lake. The color is unnaturally blue — just looking at it calms you. This is why one Instagram influencer just had to visit.
Her name is Sarah Gerpe, and she boasts over 35,000 social media followers. Her fans rely on her to snap awesome photos for their entertainment, and she knew Monte Neme was the destination for her.
Instagram / sarahgerpe
On the yoga teacher’s social media site, she states she’s “in love with the sea and the mountains and addicted to swimming and free diving.” She visited, snapping a few choice photos.
Instagram / sarahgerpe
Soon, however, her followers online started to notice an interesting trend about her photos — she never actually went in to the water. In fact, they realized that almost no one who took pictures there went swimming.
This Instagram influencer (32,000 followers) and self-proclaimed fashion designer, Christian Lema, knew Monte Neme offered epic photos; that’s why he showed up ready to pose in some classy swag. And, even more popular Instagrammers make the venture.
Instagram / chrisslema2
A Spanish fashion blogger named Iria who flaunts nearly 50,000 followers took a photo in April of 2018 that had fans swooning. One wrote, “I could so totally be there right now!” But, you’ve probably noticed no one’s actually in the water.
Instagram / myblueberrynightsblog
Well, that was until an Instagrammer who goes by the name Izzyandtai visited Monte Neme in July of 2019 — he didn’t hesitate to dive in headfirst. However, he learned a harsh lesson about the lake.
Instagram / izzyandtai
Not long after his swim, he posted this to his social media account. His arm was red, inflamed, and extremely itchy. That wasn’t the only area of his body affected, either.
Instagram / izzyandtai
He also developed blisters on his foot. Now, while he claimed there was no connection whatsoever between the water and his blistery rashes, people who knew the history of Monte Neme thought otherwise.
Instagram / izzyandtai
Around the time of World War I, the area surrounding Monte Neme served as a tungsten mine. The extraction of the metal was something even the Nazis were enthralled with. But, what even is “tungsten”?
Sean Gallup / Getty Images
It’s an important metal (referred to as a superalloy) often used to create wear-resistant coatings on steel, and it can also be used to create filaments inside light bulbs and cathode ray tubes.
Horacio Villalobos / Getty Images
Tungsten’s importance continued throughout World War II, as well. The metal was a hot commodity for decades, until mining ceased in the 1980s and the area was abandoned. The dangerous tungsten, however, leaked into the lake after work stopped.
Hulton-Deutsch Collection / Getty Images
This was exactly why very few people dared to take a dip when they visited. Sure, the area made for a phenomenal photo, but leave the bathing suits at home unless you want potentially dire health issues.
If you do actually swim, one physician warns of “eye problems and skin rashes,” adding, “If you drink some water, you may also experience vomiting and diarrhea.” These ailments caused outrage between the Spanish government and an environmental group named Plataforma.
Instagram / karinaqv93
Knowing full-well the dangers of the water, the government still advertised the location as a tourist destination using a picture of a cross-legged woman gazing over the lake. Eventually, the environmental group had the ad dropped.
Instagram / silkitta
Interestingly, Monte Neme isn’t the only gorgeous-but-poison-riddled body of water popular with social media influencers. A lake in Russia called “Siberian Seychelles” is full of alkaline metals, which make photos like this one incredibly dangerous.
Instagram / tweezer_nsk
A nearby chemical factory spilled massive amounts of pollution into the water. But, as we know, Instagram influencers really don’t care about danger when it comes to gaining more fans and those coveted “likes.”
Instagram / i_am_dobro
This woman is laying flowers down to honor the victims of the worst nuclear disaster of all time. She’s one of many people who were personally affected by the tragedy at Chernobyl, and she’s likely one of the many people deeply disturbed by what’s become of the infamous meltdown site.
When Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant suffered a malfunction in 1986, the massive meltdown released of ton of radioactive gas into the surrounding area. It was so bad it actually changed the colors of trees in the nearby forests.
For nine straight days, radiation poured out until the government could finally suppress it, but so much damage was already done. Tens of thousands of people were evacuated, but many were already exposed to a deadly amount. The damage was catastrophic.
Specially trained people were called in to handle the crisis. They were known as the “Chernobyl liquidators.” These brave workers put their health at risk to ensure the catastrophe didn’t go on for even longer. These folks are some of the many honored to this day.
Many horrific accounts of the accident from both the liquidators and the citizens of Pripyat were featured in a book titled Voices of Chernobyl. Author Svetlana Alexievich wanted their stories heard, and her book even became the subject of an HBO series.
The series Chernobyl is based on recollections from those who experienced first-hand the absolute chaos of the nuclear meltdown. Now, a massive memorial stands tall to honor the fallen. The site has become memorial to man’s folly — and people are flocking to see it.
See, the level of radioactivity is nowhere near what it was at the time of the meltdown, but there are still pockets of land that have unhealthy amounts. For this reason, visits have fairly strict time limits put on them. Some visitors are wise; others aren’t.
Because the incident was so devastating — a the story behind the disaster is fascinating — it draws crowds from all over who want to learn more. Some of these crowds have less-than-respectful intentions.
The respectful visitors might opt for a guided tour of the plant; one of the first things they see is that tribute to those who died trying to contain the mess. It reminds visitors what it all means — the weight of everything. But not everyone takes the site seriously.
See, one of the most important things people need to understand when they visit is how necessary it is to show respect. Many people suffered as a result of the accident, but unfortunately, not everyone who visits displays the same level of respect.
Social media influencers have been showing up more and more trying to snap photos and make videos of themselves hanging out on the ruins of Chernobyl — and not everyone sees it as “cool.”
In a world where people place such high value on the amount of followers they have or the number of views their profile gets, they need to find unique ways to garner attention, and for some, this means heading to Chernobyl.
These social media users are sneaking around Chernobyl outside the confines of tour groups to gain access to areas the public really shouldn’t be exploring for many different reasons.
First of all, certain areas are incredibly dangerous, and this photo proves it. No tour guide in their right mind would ever lead people to the end of a rickety old platform. But, a photo like this certainly gets likes on Instagram.
Another danger these people face is over-exposure to radioactivity. Sure, it might seem cool at the time to take a picture standing in a danger zone, but how cool will it be years from now when they develop cancerous nodes on their lungs?
The creator of the Chernobyl series on HBO, Craig Mazin, urged influencers to cool it with all the selfies and artsy pictures at the site — and for good reason. It shows blatant disregard of the effect the accident actually caused.
Take this photo, for example. This guy used an effect to make it look like he had four arms and three eyes, which was probably to signify the effects of radiation. However, the actual effects of radiation are painful and horrific.
In ’86, citizens of Pripyat were evacuated from their homes, terrified of what would happen to them. Now social media users like this woman are striking sullen poses for their Instagram accounts at a place they probably know very little about.
Unfortunately, so long as social media is around, people are going to do whatever they can to get the most followers. If that means taking photos they deem “hip” or “trendy” at the site of a disaster, you better believe they’ll keep doing it.
Still, not every photo-worthy opportunity is of a crumbling building or total chaos. Because, in the wake of the disaster, over 300,000 people were evacuated from the surrounding areas, forced to leave behind their homes, belongings, and even pets.
While most complied with the evacuation, a handful of lifelong residents decided to stay put in spite of the threat of radiation. Yet despite the presence of a few brave souls, the nearby towns and cities that once housed millions slowly began to crumble away.
The Long Shadow of Chernobyl
Three decades later, the Exclusion Zone remains almost completely abandoned, a ruined relic of the past completely frozen in time. But although the human population here has been reduced to near-zero, other populations have begun to thrive.
The descendants of the pets left behind during the initial evacuations still reside in the Exclusion Zone and continue to proliferate despite the high levels of radiation. The Clean Futures Fund, which has worked to care for these animals over the years, estimates that more than 600 strays call this area home.
Along with stray pets, the Exclusion Zone saw a dramatic increase in the number of wild animals in the area. In fact, some scientists believe that the local animal population is actually greater now than it was back in 1986.
Elk, deer, foxes, and bison are among the various groups of animals that have been spotted roaming the area, and with a lack of human interference, their numbers have exploded in recent years. Even the European brown bear – a species not seen in the region for nearly a century – has been spotted in the Zone.
Taking this phenomenon into account, conservationists are now making attempts to use the Exclusion Zone as a means to protect endangered animals. After releasing a herd of rare Przewalski’s horses into the area, scientists have seen a steady increase in their numbers as well.
But it seems that the native gray wolf population has benefited the most from the absence of humans. Without any natural predators, wolves have become the most prevalent species in the Exclusion Zone.
Scientists believe that the wolf population here is actually seven times larger than those of most uncontaminated reserves. In fact, wildlife ecologist Jim Beasley once estimated that the wolves of the Exclusion Zone outnumber even those of Yellowstone National Park.
Yet while it’s certainly a good thing that these animals have done so well, there’s still the question as to what kind of long-term effects the radiation will have on them. Thus far, scientists’ observations have been mixed.
Despite their large numbers, most of the stray dogs in the Exclusion Zone are struggling to survive. They primarily rely on scraps left behind by visitors for food, and very few of them live beyond the age of six.
Smaller animals like birds, fish, and rodents have also begun to exhibit the damaging effects of radiation, such as the development of tumors and cataracts. Albinism and other genetic disorders are also common, and the rate of growth abnormalities has spiked as well.
Even the insect world has been rocked by this radiation. Most spiders that reside in the Exclusion Zone can no longer spin geometrically perfect webs, and the lifespan of most bugs has decreased due to a higher susceptibility to parasites.
There is also fear that these animals will begin to venture beyond the Exclusion Zone, contaminating other areas and passing down their mutated genetic code to future offspring. This fear is especially true of the area’s birds, who can cover much larger distances than their four-legged counterparts.
Yet wolves are also known to stray to other parts of the region, most often in search of a mate. Given their large population and ease of mobility, this could pose an enormous threat to neighboring ecosystems.
To study this risk, scientists tracked these wolves and found that their influence may not be limited to just neighboring areas. One wolf traveled a staggering 250 miles in 2018, though to some, this was actually a positive.
World Economic Forum
According to Anders Moller, a scientist at the University of Paris-Stud, this wolf could travel such a great distance proved the effects of radiation on animals may not be as devastating as once believed. In fact, some have asserted the populations of the Exclusion Zone may have actually adapted to the radiation.
Though the long-term effects of this radiation remain to be seen, there’s no question the animals of the Exclusion Zone are more than capable of surviving. It might be worth taking a page or two from their book, however, as we humans come in contact with plenty of radiation in our daily lives — and most of us do so without even knowing it!
Because they carry the isotope potassium-40, bananas actually emit tiny traces of radiation that even a Geiger counter can pick up. But don’t cut ’em from your diet just yet. You’d have to eat about 500,000 bananas before you’d start feeling queasy.
Airport scanners are a problem too. In an instant, the controversial tool that TSA agents use to quickly search travelers for contraband exposes you to more radiation than you’d see living within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant for a year.
The danger doesn’t stop once you’re through security, either. At about 35,000 feet, a six-hour flight from New York City to Los Angeles exposes travelers to radiation levels equivalent to about 400 trips through those airport security body scanners. Yikes!
Thanks to radioactive substances released through smoke, living within 50 miles of a coal power plant would expose you to far more radiation than if you lived the same distance from a nuclear power plant.
The Sunday Leader
In Brazil, the roots of trees that produce Brazil nuts extend so far into the ground they actually reach radium-rich soil. The radium—a natural source of radiation—then makes its way into the nuts themselves.
In the 1960s, it was common for dish and pottery makers to use thorium, potassium-40, or even depleted uranium oxide in coating glazes. Eating acidic foods on these plates could leach some of those elements.
kevinspage / YouTube
You know exit signs lining every hallway at the office or public place that show you the way out? They stay lit without electricity by utilizing a hydrogen isotope called tritium, a harmful radioactive substance if ingested.
The cylindrical bulbs of fluorescent lights produce that unsettling light in office buildings and classrooms often contain the radioactive isotope krypton-85. However, the other non-radioactive chemicals utilized in these bulbs are even more dangerous.
Master Sgt. Phil Speck / Kentucky Air National Guard
To actually detect smoke, some smoke detectors utilize americium-241, a radioactive isotope. Luckily, it’s surrounded by foil and stuff, so as long as you don’t eat the hallway smoke detector between hamburger buns, you should be safe.
Hoppy and Jumpy / YouTube
While it’s great for absorbing your cat’s hard work, the bentonite clay that makes up cat litter contains naturally occurring uranium and thorium. This causes a lot of problems when litter ends up in landfills or in drinking water.
Paper gets its shine from a white clay called kaolin. And as with kitty litter, it’s that clay that makes this radioactive because it contains traces of uranium and thorium.
Cosmic radiation is a real thing, especially for Colorado folk. The sun emits electromagnetic particles and ultraviolet rays, and the people of Denver—a city situated more than a mile above sea level—are exposed to about twice as much radiation as those living at sea level.
The very counters that make your kitchen pop have trace amounts of uranium and thorium in them. That uranium decays into a gas called radon, which can do some serious health damage. Luckily, the granite keeps most of it contained!
Granite and Marble Specialties / YouTube
Grand Central Station in New York City sits on a granite foundation and boasts granite walls, which, remember, holds radiation. In fact, the station emits more radiation in a year than the legal limits imposed on nuclear power plants would allow.
While it’s no mystery medical scans and X-rays give off radiation, just how much often flies under the radar. A single chest X-ray, in just one second, emits one-fifth of the radiation a nuclear power plant can legally emit in an entire year.
If you thought the chest X-ray was bad, a single blast from a CT scan gives off more radiation about eight times the amount nuclear power plants can legally emit in a whole year.
Cigarettes are bad for your health in more ways than one. Tobacco leaves contain traces of polonium-210, an element Russian government authorities allegedly used to assassinate Alexander Litvinenko, a political enemy (left). The element can build up in a smoker’s lungs and organs over time.
According to the National Cancer Institute, cell phones emit radio waves that may increase the risk of cancer or alter your brain in other yet-to-be-measured ways. Still, a lot of science argues that phones are perfectly safe.
San Diego Union Tribune
When you sprinkle fertilizer on your lawn, you’re laying down soil that’s rich with potassium, phosphorous, and nitrogen. That phosphorous can contain uranium, which is considered “weakly radioactive.” Still, it could make its way into any food grown in that soil!
Even you — yes, you! — are a radioactive being. Bodies contain elements like potassium-40, uranium, thorium, and carbon-14, the decay of which allows scientists to determine the age of skeletons with carbon dating.
University of California, Irvine / Flickr