Global Warming’s Effects on Far North Hazardous Waste Site

As first reported by Brown University, researchers recently published a study that indicates that climate change is poised to release hazardous wastes at an abandoned United States military base in Greenland.

The work has led Vittus Qujaukitsoq, Greenland’s minister of industry, labor, and trade and foreign affairs, to publicly demand that Denmark prepare to clean up the base and compensate residents who live near it. In his statement, Qujaukitsoq refers to the study, which appears in Geophysical Research Letters.

Camp Century, Greenland, circa 1959
Camp Century, Greenland, circa 1959
According to the October 13th edition of the Danish newspaper Berlingske, Qujaukitsoq also demanded renegotiation of the Danish-American defense agreement in Greenland. Søren Espersen, member of Danish parliament and chairman of Denmark’s foreign policy committee, strongly objected to this demand, the newspaper reports.

In the study, Jeff Colgan, associate professor of political science and international and public affairs at Brown University’s Watson Institute, and colleagues discuss both the historic and climatic context of the base and anticipated the potential for political acrimony.

“Our study highlights that Camp Century now possesses unanticipated political significance in light of anthropogenic climate change,” the researchers write. “The potential remobilization of wastes that were previously regarded as properly sequestered, or preserved for eternity is an instance, possibly the first, of a potentially new pathway to political dispute associated with climate change.”

During the Cold War, the US government and Denmark signed a treaty to jointly defend Greenland, a Danish territory, from Soviet attack, Colgan says. Camp Century was established in Greenland in 1959 and was intended “to test the feasibility of building nuclear missile launch sites close enough to reach the Soviet Union,” according to an article in New Security Beat by Colgan and his coauthor William Colgan of York University in Ontario. Camp Century shuttered after eight years, in 1967.

“The base was abandoned with minimal decommissioning,” the researchers write in the Geophysical Research Letters study, “as engineering design of the era assumed that the base would be ‘preserved for eternity’ by perpetual snowfall.” According to the study, the Army Corps of Engineers removed the base’s nuclear reactor core but left the camp’s infrastructure and all other waste behind.

According to the study, waste left at the site includes diesel fuel, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), biological waste including grey water and sewage in unlined sumps, and radiological waste in the form of coolant for the portable nuclear generator at the base.

Since the camp was decommissioned, Jeff Colgan says, “falling snow has buried the camp roughly 115 feet further underneath the ice.” Climatic projections, however, “predict increased surface melting in northwestern Greenland through 2100,” according to the study.

Colgan and Colgan point out that climate change has warmed the Arctic more than any other region on Earth. They and their coauthors predict that the waste, which they found covers 136 acres, could begin to reemerge in 2090.

“The PCBs are likely the biggest concern for animal and human health, if they are remobilized into surface waters,” according to Colgan and Colgan, who add that the pollutants could reach the ocean, disrupt marine ecosystems, and accumulate in the food chain.

“It is very understandable that Greenland’s government wants clarity on who is responsible for the pollution and whether they will accept the eventual costs of environmental remediation,” Jeff Colgan says, but “as we emphasized in the study, there is no environmental risk in the near-term, and likely the pollution will stay buried in the ice for several decades at least.

“Right now, what’s needed is monitoring and research to assess if and when clean-up actions are necessary.”

Brownfield Conference in Newark, New Jersey

The 8th Northeast Sustainable Communities Workshop is scheduled for March 15th2017 in Newark, New Jersey.  Sponsored by the Brownfield Coalition of the Northeast, the workshop will is entitled Driving Revitalization Sustainably: identifying sustainable goals and strategies for revitalizing their communities and brownfields,

The conference brings together experts and attendees to discuss the most current and state-of-the-art approaches and strategies are unique and typically heard at other events.  Past workshops have been attended by representatives from government, higher education, professional organizations, and laboratories, as well as attorneys, developers, contractors, and consultants.

The goals of the workshop are to break new ground, offer new ideas, and posit new concepts on the topics of sustainability, collaboration and leverage, contamination, resiliency, brownfields, technology, and their impact on community revitalization.

The workshop is known to for using PowerPoint presentations sparingly, having speakers that are concise, yet informative; and providing plenty of time in each session for dialogue between attendees, speakers, and moderators.

To register for the March 15, 2017 visit the workshop website.

Guide on Long-Term Contaminant Management Using Institutional Controls

The U.S. Interstate Technology Regulatory Council (ITRC) recently published a guidance document on Long-Term Contaminant Management Using Institutional Controls (IC-1).  The guidance document was developed in response to the recent growth in the number of contaminated sites in the U.S. that are being managed through the use of institutional controls (ICs).

ICs are a form of land use controls that provide protection from exposure to contaminants on a site.  In contrast to engineered site remedies, ICs consist of government controls, proprietary controls, enforcement or permit mechanisms, and informational devices that limit land or resource use (thus protecting human health by controlling how the property is used).

The guidance manual includes a survey of current state practices for ICs, best practices for developing and managing ICs.  As part of the manual, there is a downloadable tool that can be used to document critical information about an IC.  This tool can help to create a lasting record of the site that includes the regulatory authority, details of the IC, the responsibilities of all parties, a schedule for monitoring the performance of the IC, and much more relevant information.  The tool generates an editable Long Term Stewardship (LTS) plan in Microsoft Word.