Hazardous Waste Threatens to Emerge from Shrinking Ice Sheet


As climate change in the Arctic raises temperatures, scientists confirm that melting ice sheets will soon reveal hazardous waste abandoned at a Cold War outpost in Greenland.

In 1959 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built Camp Century to secretly research if nuclear missiles could be launched from Greenland during the Cold War. However, after abandoning the camp in 1967 the U.S. left all the hazardous wastes trapped beneath the ice in what they thought would be an ever-increasing snow bank.

They believed the Greenland Ice Sheet would contain the “physical, chemical, biological, and radiological wastes” forever and they did not foresee climate change unearthing Camp Century and its dangers at approximately the year 2090, according to a paper published in “Geophysical Research Letters.”

A map of Greenland pinpointing Camp Century. Sourced "Melting Ice Sheet Could Release Frozen Cold War-Era Waste" from the  "American Geophysical Union."
A map of Greenland pinpointing Camp Century. Sourced “Melting Ice Sheet Could Release Frozen Cold War-Era Waste” from the “American Geophysical Union.”

“‘The question is whether it’s going to come out in hundreds of years, in thousands of years, or in tens of thousands of years…This stuff was going to come out anyway, but what climate change did was press the gas pedal to the floor and say, ‘it’s going to come out a lot faster than you thought,”” said James White, a professor specializing in climatology at the University of Colorado-Boulder, in an article published with the “American Geophysical Union.”

If the ice sheet melts before a government agency cleans up these contaminates, all of them will wreak havoc on the environment.

At this time no one knows who will clean up Camp Century, because international law focuses on hazardous waste that will be dumped, not waste already deposited.  Since the United States built the base in what is now an independent Greenland while it was still a Danish territory, the government responsible for Camp Century is unclear.  These three governments will be establishing precedence for how international law will rule on abandoned hazardous wastes dumps.

No matter the ruling, someone needs to be ready to properly dispose of the waste before the ice breaks.


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