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Antarctic research requires costly cleanup.

Antarctic research requires costly cleanup

Antarctica inspires images of pristine emptiness, but McMurdo Station -- the primary U.S. research base there -- has produced air and water pollution that environmental groups say far surpass levels acceptable in the United States. On Oct. 14 in Washington, D.C., officials of the National Science Foundation (NSF), which oversees U.S. scientific efforts in Antarctica, outlined a potential multi-million-dollar plan to minimize U.S. pollution in the Antarctic.

At a monthly meeting of the agency's governing body, Carol A. Roberts of NSF's polar programs division described a cleanup and prevention program for NSF's field camps and three year-round stations in Antarctica. NSF Director Erich Bloch said the effort may cost more than $30 million during the next three or four years. NSF provides about $ 125 million annually for Antarctic research.

"We do have a serious problem," Roberts told SCIENCE NEWS. "We have to clean up our act, especially at McMurdo," which houses more than 1,000 people in Southern Hemisphere summer. By 1991, NSF intends to complete the first steps of its plan: Disperse McMurdo's sewage more effectively by submerging the exposed pipe that empties the settlement's waste water into McMurdo Sound, and improve water quality by building a treatment system that Roberts says will prove as effective as those now used in 37 U.S. coastal cities.

But many environmental observers view NSF's efforts as inadequate. Mary A. Voytek of the Environmental Defense Fund in Washington, D.C., says, "NSF is trying, but we would like to see them speed up the process. Several of the things they talked about doing [at the recent meeting] were things they talked about in 1980." NSF has yet to address other issues, such as the impact of uncontrolled vehicle emissions, she says.

Separate August reports from the Environmental Defense Fund and the international group Greenpeace accuse NSF of violating treaty obligations at McMurdo by dumping garbage in a landfill and burning plastics. Both groups also say the agency should follow up a 1983 NSF study suggesting concentrations of toxic chemicals and heavy metals in McMurdo Sound exceed those in many of the most polluted U.S. bays and estuaries. But Roberts says, "We consider the water-sample data from that study to be very imprecise." NSF plans to conduct a new study in December, she says.
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Title Annotation:air and water pollution from McMurdo Station
Author:Knox, Charles
Publication:Science News
Date:Oct 22, 1988
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