2004-2005 USAP Field Season

Environmental and Health & Safety Initiatives


NSF Contact:

Environmental Officer

National Science Foundation
4201 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, VA 22230

The Antarctic Conservation Act (ACA) was made U.S. law in 1978 and was amended by the Antarctic Science, Tourism, and Conservation Act of 1996. The ACA is intended to conserve and protect the native mammals, birds, and plants of Antarctica and the ecosystem. It is broadly applied to U.S. citizens and other participants in U.S. government activities south of 60 degrees south latitude. It regulates ordinary on-ice activities and provides a permit system that allows while carefully restricting certain otherwise prohibited activities for worthwhile purposes. It empowers enforcement officers and prescribes serious penalties for violations.  
In 1991, the United States along with the other treaty nations adopted the Protocol on Environmental Protection and its five annexes that outline a comprehensive protection system for the antarctic environment. Together, the ACA and the Protocol formalizes America's commitment to protect the environment of the southernmost continent and its dependent and associated ecosystems. Together, the United States and other treaty nations are committed to preserving the region as a natural reserve devoted to peace and science.  
Specific provisions for environmental protection include regulating the introduction of nonindigenous species, prohibiting casual interference with flora and fauna, and managing pollutants. Particularly sensitive regions have been designated ASPAs (Antarctic Specially Protected Areas) and permits are required to enter them. Each five years, NSF's support contractor must apply for and be issued a Master Permit which establishes requirements for managing pollutants and wastes including removal and recycling or proper disposal in the United States of most wastes and excess materials generated by the program.  
Recognizing that worthwhile scientific research and related logistic support can have effects on the Antarctic environment, the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties adopted recommendations on environmental monitoring in Antarctica with two important goals: To detect any unforeseen effects, and to verify the actual impact and scope of those effects that were anticipated. The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty also requires that environmental impacts be monitored. The U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP) is developing an Environmental Monitoring Program designed to detect and measure any impacts from science and operations at its research stations in Antarctica. Only with a sustained and coherent monitoring program can a reliable basis for sound environmental management decisions and possible improvements be established. Data obtained from the monitoring program will be used to document baseline conditions, verify operational impact, and monitor activities undertaken to recover from accidental impacts to the environment.  
Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) initiatives for the United States Antarctic Program were established in 1987 by a safety review panel appointed by the director of the NSF. The goals of the initiatives are to clean up debris from past activities, improve the health and safety of all USAP participants, and minimize the environmental impact of on-ice activities. The initiatives are consistent with US environmental protection regulations (45CFR670-672).  
Historically, the USAP has recycled 60-70 percent of all the waste generated on stations. The remainder is incinerated, treated, or removed to landfills in the United States. Last season, 1.9 million kilograms of recyclables, waste, and equipment were removed from USAP stations and field camps. The preferred waste management strategy is pollution prevention and the EHS initiatives waste minimization program has reduced waste by about 9 percent annually since 1994.  
  The initiatives also include an environmental impact assessment program. All on-ice activities, research or otherwise, which are expected to have a minor or transitory environmental impact are documented to help identify alternatives and mitigate potential impacts. This program is designed to ensure that environmental considerations are taken into account in the planning of all activities with the aim of preventing adverse impacts. Each season, audits are conducted to ensure that research activities comply with environmental impact assessment requirements.  
  A comprehensive plan to educate science parties about the Antarctic Conservation Act (ACA) and other environmental practices has been developed to support the USAP. Waste management education and training is provided at each major station and for personnel deploying to the field. Specialized environmental information and training is provided for the wide variety of environments and situations encountered within the USAP, both before and during the field season. For example, all participants entering the McMurdo Dry Valleys are trained to work in an area with its unique environmental sensitivities.  
  Antarctica's remote location and extreme environment, combined with limited medical services, make safety a top priority for all people working within the USAP. The USAP integrates health and safety requirements and awareness into every activity at every site. A comprehensive field safety training program has been implemented to ensure participants know what to expect, and how to survive in a variety of field situations. On station, RPSC invites all USAP participants to take part in specific safety training, safety evaluations and work place inspections to become more proactive in safety as opposed to reactive. With the addition of new safety multi-media and presentations at each of the stations, USAP participants can check out videos and safety information to round out their knowledge or to learn new techniques in preventing personal injuries. USAP participants are ultimately responsible for their behaviors and contributions to the Safety and Health Program. RPSC Safety and Health Professionals & Management are a dedicated safety resource to the USAP who can and should be used by all program participants.