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Science & Technology

Antarctic assault

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Aug 15, 1995 | From the print edition
The scourge of pollution has not spared even the icy continent

-- (Credit: Shri Krishan)RECENT findings by a group of American
researchers suggest that even the remote
continent of Antarctica exhibits evidence of contamination, mainly due to
scientific support activities, an ever increasing number of visitors, ship
operations, atmospheric fallout and disposal practices. And all these pose a serious threat to the marine environment of
the continent (Environmental Science
and Technology, Vol 29, No 5).

A team led by Mahlon C Kennicutt ii
of the Geochernical and Environmental
Research Group of the Texas A&M
University, and consisting of environmentalists of many us research institutes
studied 2 scientific locations in the icy
continent - the Palmer Station, located on Anvers Island in the Antarctic
peninsula, and McMurdo Station,
located on Ross Island. They reported
concrete evidence of the presence of
polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated bi-phenyls (PCBS), pesticides and trace metal concentration at the 2 sites.

Says Kennicut, "Local releases of
fossil fuels in the scientific research stations, disposal of waste materials, aging of ship and station structures have been
the potential sources of contamination.
High concentration of PCBS were detected from sediments and organisms from
Winter Quarters Bay (near McMurdo Station)."

The commonly used fuels in the scientific research stations, include diesel fuel arctic, diesel fuel marine, and leaded and unleaded gasoline, have also contributed to the problem. Wastewater
releases, in the form of sanitary sewage,
laboratory discharges, brine from desalinators, fuel spills due to leakage
from the fuel pipelines, and visiting ships have greatly added to the contamination of the marine environment.

These findings are significant
because cold temperatures in the icy
continent tends to immobilise the contaminants, and this is likely to have dangerous consequences in the long run.
"Contaminants are detectable in
Antarctic organisms, and the expectation is that the contaminants are transported along the food chain. In some
cases, the levels of bioaccumulation of
contaminants in marine organisms has
been found comparable to those
observed in inclustrialised areas," argues Kennicutt.

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