Protection of the environment has high priority for na- tions that operate in the Antarctic. The Antarctic Treaty system, with its Agreed Measures for the Conservation of Fauna and Flora (1964) and its Protocol on Environmental Protection (1991), prescribes comprehensive protective measures.
The U.S. Government is pledged to uphold these princi- ples. The National Science Foundation operates the U.S. Antarctic Program in accordance with U.S. and international requirements regarding protection of the environment. Environmental protection and waste management procedures have been improved significantly in recent years. Cleanups have largely removed the waste that had accumulated during earlier decades. Following are summaries of the treaties and laws that apply to Antarctica and of recent actions taken in the U.S. Antarctic Program.
o The Antarctic Treaty (1959) prohibits military fortifications, nuclear explosions, disposal of radioac- tive waste, and testing of weapons. The United States is a signatory.
o The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (the ``Madrid protocol,'' 1991) prohibits any activity, other than scientific research, relating to mineral resources. It tightens standards for assessing impacts, conserving fauna and flora, managing waste, and preventing marine pollution. The U.S. Antarctic Program is complying voluntarily until U.S. le- gislation to implement the protocol is in place.
o The Antarctic Conservation Act of 1978 (Public Law 95-541), and the regulations issued under it, govern the taking of fauna and flora; entry into protected areas; introduction of nonnative species; material management and waste disposal; and use of designated pollutants. A permit system enables investigators to apply to collect specimens and enter protected areas for compelling scientific purposes. The system provides for public comment on each application.
o The Antarctic Marine Living Resources Convention Act of 1984 (Public Law 98-623) makes it unlawful to harvest marine species in a way that would damage ecological relationships among harvested, dependent, and related populations.
o The Antarctic Protection Act of 1990 (Public Law 101-594) bans mineral resource activities by U.S. citizens.
o A 1993 decision by the U.S. Appeals Court for the District of Columbia establishes that the National Environmental Policy Act (Public Law 91-190 and amendments--NEPA) applies to U.S. Government activities in Antarctica. Before, Executive Order 12114 (Environ- mental Effects Abroad of Major Federal Actions, 1979) guided the U.S. Antarctic Program.
o The National Science Foundation requires every scientist proposing research in Antarctica to analyze the environmental impact of the proposed project. NSF care- fully reviews the proposal and does not give approval unless the project (sometimes modified for this purpose) complies with antarctic environmental standards.
o Activities planned in the U.S. Antarctic Program-- science support, construction, operations, logistics, and facilities maintenance--are (a) subjected to environ- mental analysis specific to the proposed action or (b) governed by a program-wide environmental impact statement issued in 1980 and revised in 1991. More than 120 specific environmental documents have been issued. The documents are public (see last page).
o The National Science Foundation administers the Antarctic Conservation Act permit system, which enables qualified scientists to obtain access to fauna and flora and specially protected areas on a controlled basis. Public comment is solicited (in the Federal Register) about each application, and permit requests and final reports are public information.
o The Foundation produces and disseminates documents and videos to educate U.S. citizens about their environmental protection responsibilities in Antarctica and the penalties for noncompliance. Audiences include U.S. Antarctic Program participants and nongovernmental entities such as tourists, tour operators, and adventurers.
o A Foundation-managed program places trained observers on selected tour ships to monitor compliance by U.S. citizens with environmental standards of the Antarctic Conservation Act.
o All program participants sort and recycle waste at their work sites and their living areas.
o Waste management is now a ``cradle-to-grave'' function that has been integrated into U.S. antarctic operations from procurement to disposal.
o In 1993 the Foundation's Office of Polar Programs established and filled two new positions--NEPA Compliance Manager and Associate Compliance Manager--to assure adherence with NEPA in Antarctica. A third position-- Antarctic Conservation Act Enforcement Officer--also was established and filled. These positions add to four existing managers whose primary roles are in safety, environment, and health aspects of the U.S. Antarctic Program.
o A U.S. Government interagency group is drafting legislation to implement U.S. adherence to the new Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty.
o The 1993-1994 season is the last year of a 5-year antarctic safety, environment, and health initiative approved by the President and the Congress. The initiative includes $36-million for environmental protection in the U.S. Antarctic Program. Some results follow.
o Fuel handling has been improved by replacing rubber bladder tanks with double-wall steel tanks at McMurdo's skiway and ice runway ; replacing old, short hoses with fewer but longer hoses having ``dry-break'' connectors; developing fuel spill contingency plans; and installing spill cleanup equipment at U.S. stations. A program is under way to provide containment berms around McMurdo's single-wall fuel tanks. Tanks near Robert F. Scott's 1902 hut (an Antarctic Treaty historic site) are to be removed. McMurdo's entire fuel system (tanks, pipes, pumps) is being evaluated in detail in 1993-1994.
o McMurdo's original dump (used until 1980) on the shore of Winter Quarters Bay was cleared of surface and near-surface debris and stabilized.
o McMurdo's old trash-burning area (used from 1980 to 1991) at Fortress Rocks uphill from the station was remediated and stabilized. Packaged waste now is staged there for removal from Antarctica.
o At Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, on the ice sheet in the antarctic interior, open-trench disposal of solid waste was terminated. The station now sends all its solid and hazardous waste to McMurdo for processing. In the 1992-1993 season 135 metric tons--more than 20 cargo plane loads--was removed.
o The U.S. Antarctic Program no longer burns or incinerates food waste or any other waste in Antarctica. It is proposing to remove the waste from Antarctica for proper disposal.
o More than 2,300 drums containing hazardous or unknown waste were identified, packed in salvage drums, and removed in 1991-1992 to the United States for proper disposal. Most of the waste consisted of contaminated fuel, solvents, and acids and bases that had accumulated over the years.
o McMurdo Station is the waste management center for virtually all U.S. operations on the antarctic continent. The waste that is collected, labeled, and packaged there is removed to approved disposal sites outside Antarctica.
o The antarctic program has moved significantly toward its goal of total waste removal from Antarctica. McMurdo's annual cargo ship in 1992 removed 2,500 metric tons of backlogged waste, old equipment, and recyclables- -this was the peak year. The 1993 load was 1,500 metric tons.
o Waste generated at dormitories and work sites is sorted at the source into 17 categories for reuse in Antarctica or for recycling or disposal in the United States.
o The several dozen research camps around Antarctica that are supported each austral summer from McMurdo take their waste to McMurdo for appropriate handling.
o Palmer Station, on Anvers Island off the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, sends its solid and hazardous waste by ship either to destinations outside of Antarctica for proper disposal or to McMurdo for further handling and removal from Antarctica.
o Electrical transformers containing PCBs were removed from Antarctica and replaced with new transformers that do not contain PCBs.
o The program has made major strides in inventory management to reduce the amount of hazardous and other material stored in Antarctica.
o Chemical, laboratory, and hazardous wastes are pro- hibited from station sewage systems. The science labora- tories and other sources capture such waste for removal from Antarctica.
o Palmer's kitchen, bathing, and toilet waste is macerated and diluted with brine from the seawater desal- ination plant before being discharged into the sea.
o McMurdo's kitchen, bathing, and toilet waste is macerated, diluted with brine from the seawater desalina- tion plant, and discharged into the sea through a submerged pipe to assure dilution.
o NSF is collecting data for an assessment of the McMurdo sewage system. Also, in response to its request, potential contractors have presented statements of how they might engineer a sewage treatment plant.
o Waste minimization and recycling technologies are being researched and pursued for McMurdo Station.
o The two ships operated by the U.S. Antarctic Program--the Nathaniel B. Palmer and the Polar Duke--were built in 1992 and 1983 and meet both international high seas standards (Marpol) and Antarctic Treaty protocol stipulations regarding discharge of pollutants.
o The original Palmer Station, built in 1965 across Arthur Harbor from the present station, has been dis- mantled and removed from Antarctica. The site has been cleaned.
o Hallett Station, on the Victoria Land coast 600 kilometers north of McMurdo, was operated by the United States and New Zealand from 1956 to 1973. U.S. and N.Z. teams have removed most remains of the station except for two refuge huts and some stored fuel. Removal of the fuel is being planned.
o East Base, on Stonington Island, 400 kilometers south of Palmer, was operated by U.S. expeditions in 1940-1941 and 1947-1948. Site of the oldest U.S. struc- tures in Antarctica, it was declared historic under the Antarctic Treaty in 1989 and cleaned up, with due regard for its historic status, in 1991 and 1992. A small museum has been set up in one of the buildings.
o High levels of dissolved oxygen (8 to 9 parts per million) were recorded from sea water samples drawn adjacent to McMurdo, indicating excellent water quality. Suspended solids in the water column were negligible.
o Air monitoring stations installed for NSF at McMurdo in the 1992-1993 austral summer season gave readings of carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, the various nitrogen oxides, and small particulates that are well below (much better than) U.S. national ambient air quality standards applicable in the United States.
o Studies performed by scientists from U.S. universi- ties with funding from NSF have shown that the sediments under Winter Quarters Bay (McMurdo's harbor, a small triangular area 200 meters on a side) include hydro- carbons, other pollutants, and anthropogenic debris that were deposited during the years of the seaside dump. The sediments and waters just outside this small harbor and elsewhere show little or no effects from pollution or anthropogenic disturbance.
o An Environmental Monitoring and Enforcement Laboratory has been established in McMurdo's Albert P. Crary Science and Engineering Center.
o NSF has set up a program to support research that will provide part of the scientific basis for antarctic environmental management.