Abandoned US military base pollutes Greenland with 10,000 barrels of hazardous fuel
The WWII American airfield, named Bluie East 2, was built in eastern Greenland to house 200 to 300 soldiers in 1942.
It was shut down and abandoned by the US Air Force in 1947.
Most of the equipment and supplies were left behind, including thousands of fuel drums, cases of dynamite, ammunition, vehicles and machinery.
"There was about 3,000 55-gallon [208-litre] drums of aviation gas, automotive gas, heating oil. And those drums are all [still] there,"said Robert Baxter, who was stationed in Bluie East 2 in 1946 when he was 18 years old.
Along with a collapsed airplane hanger, bulldozers and trucks left behind, Baxter says there are likely about 800 cases of dynamite stored in a wooden shed still on the site, as well as ammunition buried all over the base.
"The army sent a demolitions expert up to dispose of [the dynamite], but he said it was too risky to fool with, so he left," said Baxter to CBC.
Images of the pristine landscape, which is in sharp contrast to the derelict debris, were captured by American photographer Ken Bower who camped on the site for eight days in order document the severity of the pollution.
"It’s quite shocking to see such a beautiful landscape with about 10,000 fuel barrels and other rusted remains," Bower told Motherboard.
In August, Bower created a Change.org petition to urge US President Barack Obama to enforce a clean up of the tarnished site which as garnered almost 35,000 signatures so far.
“There have been discussions in the past regarding a clean up, but nothing has been done to date to remove the debris and fuel barrels,” Bower wrote.
However, a clause in the 1953 Greenland Defense Agreement may allow the US to shift the clean-up responsibility to Greenland, says Inuuteq Holm Olsen, head of the Greenland representation in Washington D.C.
The clause states that any and all material or equipment brought to Greenland by the US may be “disposed of in Greenland” and goes on to warn that any area occupied by the US under this agreement “need not be left in the same condition in which they were at the time.”
Holm Olsen says it’s been very frustrating to get those responsible for the mess to clean it up,
“It’s been an ongoing case for many years, where we have tried to address these issues to those who are responsible, be it Denmark who commissioned, or the Americans who established the base and left them,”said Holm to Quartz. “It’s like speaking to a wall”.
Concerns are mounting over what potentially hazardous material could be leaking into the area’s previously blue streams, contaminating the water eventually consumed by locals.
"The people who live in Greenland, since they actually live on the land or from the land and they're consuming the game and the fish, it makes them very sensitive to this bio-accumulation," said William Colgan who has been studying the environmental impacts of abandoned military bases in Greenland at York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering.
The US has made a bit of a habit of leaving Greenland to deal with their mess.
A recent study revealed Greenland’s melting ice sheet is expected to eventually expose an abandoned US Cold War military base and release the biological, chemical and radioactive waste that was left behind in 1969.