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Survey of waste water disposal practices at Antarctic research stations


Fredrik Gröndahl, Dept. of Industrial Ecology, Royal Institute of Technology, Teknikringen 34, SE 114 28, Stockholm, Sweden. E-mail:


To inform the future practices to be employed for handling waste water and grey water at the Swedish Antarctic station, Wasa, in Dronning Maud Land, the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat took the initiative to survey the practices of the 28 nations with stations in Antarctica. A questionnaire was sent out to all members of the Antarctic Environment Officers Network during the autumn of 2005. Questions were asked about the handling of waste water and grey water, the type of sewage treatment, and installation and operational costs. The response to the questionnaire was very good (79%), and the results showed that 37% of the permanent stations and 69% of the summer stations lack any form of treatment facility. When waste water and grey water containing microorganisms are released, these microorganisms can remain viable in low-temperature Antarctic conditions for prolonged periods. Microorganisms may also have the potential to infect and cause disease, or become part of the gut flora of local bird and mammal populations, and fish and marine invertebrates. The results from 71 stations show that much can still be done by the 28 nations operating the 82 research stations in Antarctica. The technology exists for effective waste water treatment in the challenging Antarctic conditions. The use of efficient technology at all permanent Antarctic research stations would greatly reduce the human impact on the pristine Antarctic environment. In order to protect the Antarctic environment from infectious agents introduced by humans, consideration should also be given to preventing the release of untreated waste water and grey water from the smaller summer stations.