Toxic material from a former US military base in Greenland, which operated during Cold War, will probably be exposed by the end of the century due to Climate Change. The camp is buried in ice caps, but the hazardous waste is likely to be released if the thaw continues.
The US government built the “Camp Century” military base in Greenland in 1959 during the Cold War period. It was a top-secret camp for testing the feasibility of deploying nuclear missiles from the Arctic. It was later abandoned in 1967.
Though they probably considered that the base structure alongside the radioactive and toxic material in it would be buried and forever forgotten under 26 feet of ice caps in Greenland, global warming is proving them wrong, as it is increasingly threatening with leaking all the hazardous materials into the Arctic as ice melts in the area.
“Two generations ago, people were interring waste in different areas of the world, and now climate change is modifying those sites,” alleged William Colgan, climate and glacier scientist from the Department of Earth and Space Science and Engineering at York University in Canada.
Cold War is not left behind as threats continue to emerge.
Camp Century was built in 1959, in a desolate area in the Arctic, located 125 miles (200 kilometers) from Greenland’s northwest coast. It was possible through an agreement between the Governments of the United States and Denmark to protect and defend the area. Camp Century was used for scientific research, but it was also used to build and test nuclear missiles.
The military base was buried under Greenland ice sheet, and it provided camouflage. It was also strategic since it was the shortest way from the United States to the former Soviet Union. Camp Century was decommissioned in 1967.
But as personnel abandoned the military camp, they also left to freeze nuclear, biological and toxic material, which according to experts covers 136 acres (0.55 square kilometers), that is approximately the size of 100 football fields. The waste in the camp includes 53,000 gallons (200,000 liters) of diesel fuel which is enough for a car to circle the world about 80 times. The military base also contains building materials and 63,000 gallons (240,000 liters) of wastewater, which includes a significant amount of sewage.
Certainly, the military staff didn’t think back then that one day these wastes would be exposed by ice melting in the Arctic since by that time climate change was not sufficiently understood nor advanced.
“It became pretty obvious that none of these sites had received proper decommissioning” explains Colgan as well.
Scientists are currently reviewing and analyzing historical engineering documents from the US Army, to determine fully how buried the materials are and how much the ice caps have moved since the 60’s.
On the other hand, a study from the University of Zurich explained that it would be tough and costly beginning to remove the waste now in Camp Century. The study also recommended waiting until the ice sheet is enough melted to start the site remediation. Scientists suggest that the base will be exposed by the end of the century approximately by 2090 decade, but in the meantime it is likely that as the melting continues the structures are going to be saturated, before being fully exposed, carrying thus toxic waste with them.
A new Climate Change Challenge.
Climate change is an increasing threat. It affects the environment, but it has also been a cause of both disputes and understanding in the political spheres. Nowadays, international authorities can’t look away from the real threat represented by climate change. Though every part of the world has suffered from climate change, the Arctic has been especially damaged, since it accounts for a very fragile ecosystem. It has faced ice melting, the rise of sea levels and the life conditions of its inhabitants have profoundly worsened. But now, it has to face another problem represented by the release of chemical, biological, and other toxic substances into the environment.
“It’s a new breed of climate change challenge we have to think about”, said Colgan.
Besides the considerable amounts of toxic materials that may be leaked from Camp Century into the Arctic, scientists such as Colgan are mainly concerned by the polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), substances that were widely used in electrical structures and that are also present in the military base. But the Arctic already experiences a significant presence of PCBs due to the grasshopper phenomenon, which occurs when the released pollutants evaporate in warm places and are later driven to the poles by the winds.
These chemicals are dangerous to animals and people in the area. Though the Arctic has a rather small population, it is proven that such substances damage the immune, reproductive and nervous system, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), increasing the possibilities to develop cancer.