4 May, 2000
Haz Mat Team Question 75: Are there native people in Antarctica similar to the Inuit, Chuckchi and others in the Arctic region? Every two years the support agency, now Raytheon Polar Services Corporation, sends a team of Hazardous Waste Specialists to sort, package, label and ship north all the potentially hazardous material generated by our remote scientific station. This includes not only waste from Palmer itself but waste accumulated from work on board some ships and at remote field camps in the peninsula area. The process of returning anything to civilization from the ice is called "retrograde" in the local lingo. Cindy Fraze is one of the team of three who have been working on our hazmat for the last month. She has worked with hazmat for 10 years, three of them in the Antarctic. Besides her initial training, she goes back to school for a month every year to maintain her certification. The hazmat team and the three milvans they have packed with hazmat will be going north on the same ship that takes us to Chile at the end of the week. Last season a different hazmat team of four worked from October to March at McMurdo Station on its hazmat and filled 28 milvans; Palmer's waste will fill nine vans, 6 of which will follow on a later ship. These teams may have to handle radiation and acids, respond to a marine spill, be an on-call team for chemical spills, check field samples for hazmat, go along on a cruise to check for hazmat problems, even check out strange chemical smells that show up indoors. Any chemical hitting the ground is a reportable spill and may require these trained specialists to do soil or snow removal and environmental remediation. Fuel and lubricants from all the mechanical aids used in Antarctica (ships, planes, tractors, snow machines, forklifts etc.) are another source of potential environmental contamination that has to be monitored. Much of their job involves detailed paperwork for the various types of transport (air? land? sea? usually a combination) that will carry the waste to its final resting spot. The Department of Transportation governs highway transport; the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Act rules cover ship transport. Non-hazardous general trash goes to a landfill in Chile. Any waste that looks like it came from a lab goes into a regular landfill in the States, and all hazmat goes back to the US for proper disposal or containment. Most of it will travel in milvans by boat to the States, either to Pennsylvania or to Los Angeles where the milvans go onto trucks. To make sure things move legally, hazmat must be sorted by hazard class (i.e. 1 = flammable, 2 = corrosive--acid/base, 3 and 9 = asbestos and photo development chemicals, 4 = non-regulated). The drums that contain the material inside the milvans must be checked for compatibility of hazard classes, and all the appropriate paperwork must be filled out. While we worked, packed, and cleaned our dive gear today, we were visited by a friendly crabeater seal that hauled out right next to the station! Also momentous was the completion of the last amphipod assay, after which Chuck and I ceremoniously released all the amphipods back into the ocean. Answer 74: Trick question! By this time I hope everyone knows that polar bears do not live in Antarctica. Therefore they do not eat penguins which are found in the Antarctic. Even the farthest north penguins (do you remember which ones they are?) barely go across the equator into the Northern Hemisphere, let alone to the Arctic.
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