Antarctic Research Bases Spew Toxic Wastes Into Environment

Tissue from an Adélie penguin was found to be contaminated by a chemical from a research station.

Antarctica is one of the most pristine environments on Earth, but it’s wrestling with a pollution problem. And the very people who are working hardest to protect the continent are responsible.

Across Antarctica, wastewater from dozens of research bases, housing up to 5,000 people at a time, mostly scientists, is releasing nasty chemicals into the environment—and into penguins and other wildlife.

The most recent culprit: a toxic flame retardant called Hexabromocyclododecane, or HBCD.

It’s commonly used in insulation, building materials, thermoplastics, and research equipment, including computers.

Da Chen, an ecotoxicologist from Southern Illinois University, and some marine science colleagues recently tested for HBCD at the U.S. research base McMurdo Station, on the southern tip of Ross Island, and at a New Zealand base nearby, using samples from dust and sewage sludge.

The scientists also tested wildlife tissue as well as sediments from the area where wastewater from the two bases—water containing sewage, organic and inorganic material, toxins, silt, pathogens, pharmaceuticals—spills into McMurdo Sound.

HBCD was present everywhere the scientists looked: in dust from the stations, in the sediment, and in the tissue of the animals, which ranged from Adélie penguins and fish to sponges and marine worms.

Not surprisingly, the sediment nearest the wastewater source had the highest HBCD contamination. But what was unexpected is just how high the levels were—rivaling those in some rivers near highly urbanized areas in the U.S. and Europe.

The scientists reported their findings at the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry meeting late last year, but they’ve gotten little press coverage.

Read the full story here.


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About jensera

Jennifer Harrington is a Toronto-based illustrator, writer and graphic designer. She illustrated the best-selling children’s book series 'A Moose in a Maple Tree,' which includes the titles 'A Moose in a Maple Tree,' 'The Night Before a Canadian Christmas' and 'Canadian Jingle Bells.' She is also the owner of JSH Graphics, a boutique graphic design agency that specializes in print and web advertising. With her latest project, Eco Books 4 Kids, Jennifer has partnered with illustrator Michael Arnott to create a series of ecologically-themed ebooks for children. Her next book, 'Spirit Bear,' is due for release in the Summer of 2013. Jennifer offers two different school presentations for her 'Moose in a Maple Tree' collection, an illustration demonstration and a Christmas concert series, which can be booked at She will be taking bookings for school readings of 'Spirit Bear' beginning in October 2013.

2 responses to “Antarctic Research Bases Spew Toxic Wastes Into Environment”

  1. Nancy says :

    Reblogged this on "OUR WORLD".

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