The McMurdo Incinerator


the incinerator building under construction

This building is located along the road to the ice pier and Hut Point. It, as well as the oil-fired waste incinerators inside, were completed by NMCB-71 during the 1971-72 season as an attempt to, well, get rid of trash and garbage in means other than open burning or dumping on the sea ice in front of the station. There were no studies done, and this was before the days of environmental impact statements...it turns out that the Navy was putting up a similar installation at the Naval Research Laboratory at Point Barrow, so they bought two sets of equipment (!). This consisted of two 500 pound-per-hour incinerator units, so that one could be cleaned while the other was in operation. Each was equipped with an auxiliary oil burner for dealing with wet trash. The units were installed at the southeast end of the building (the end closest to Building 155, with the lowered floor). earlier in the construction phaseThey were tested at the end of the 1971-72 season, but it was quickly discovered that the waste generated locally (lots of food waste) was too wet; a significant amount of fuel was required to burn the garbage. Also, the system was poorly designed--the incinerator doors were very small (only 2 square feet), and the plan of operation was for dumpsters to be emptied onto the tipping floor (inside the rollup door) and the contents hand-shoveled into the incinerators. This caused problems with larger pieces of trash that had to be broken down. So...its operation was rather labor-intensive and inefficient, as I was told when I was in McMurdo in December of 1972. So it never was put into operation.

At above right, a photo of the structure being erected. This photo, as well as the one at the top of this page, are U.S. Navy photos from the DF-72 NMCB-71 cruisebook.

proposed baling equipment

the McMurdo dump in the 1970'sLater in the 1970's, studies were done by NCEL to see if this building could be modified, so as to provide an alternative to what was still being done with waste and garbage--namely, placing it on the annual ice in front of the station as seen at right (my December 1972 photo of the McMurdo dump). The idea they came up with was to install a baling system to condense combustible waste...there would be an external chute so that dumpsters (with disposal doors sized so that large waste items couldn't be placed in them) and a conveyor to the incinerators. There were proposed schemes to separate nonburnable materials, but the word "recycle" did not appear anywhere in the study. Needless to say, this project never happened.

The diagram at left is from NCEL Technical Memorandum M-64-79-10, prepared for NSFA by Dr. Carter J. Ward in July 1969...it is included in the 1979 revision of the "Engineering Manual for McMurdo Station" (abstract and link to PDF).




the incinerator building along the road to Hut Point

Above, the building as it looked with its original exterior siding. The facade design is typical of the many Robertson buildings which were erected in Antarctica in the late 60's, it resembles that of the Hotel California at McMurdo and the original facade of the GWR building at Palmer Station. This photo is from Joe Warne who wintered in 1980.

Jump ahead just a few more years...in the early 1990s NSF was being hammered to reduce the open burning and other waste stockpiling at the "Fortress Rocks Landfill" so they with ASA devised a couple of incinerator projects. So...during the 1990-91 summer a new incinerator was installed in this building (and used extensively during the 1991 winter), while the other options were considered. The permanent incinerator was to be in an existing warehouse building (340) up the hill from Building 155...in the meantime another "interim" incinerator would be installed somewhere, and it ended up in Building 185 (the waste barn) despite this 1991 NSF environmental action memorandum. This unit was operated during the 1992 winter. Burning was eventually discontinued because of an environmental lawsuit...and ultimately because of the Madrid protocol. It turned out that shipping the stuff out was cheaper than building and operating an incinerator anyway. All incineration was discontinued on 22 March 1993 (Lugar, Robert M. "Results of SO2, NOx, and CO Monitoring at McMurdo Station, Antarctica," EG&G Idaho Inc., May 1993, page 1).

This structure, otherwise known as Building 183, has been expanded and modified a bit since 1972, and I understand that it has been used more recently for preparing airdrop bundles. I had a look around the outside of the building in November 2008 but I didn't have a working camera. So...below is a 2007 photo courtesy of Alan Light.

Oh, the next chapter in the incinerator story...a new unit of some sort was flown to McMurdo early in the 2011-12 season on one of the C-17's, or so it was reported by someone on that aircraft. I haven't heard a word about its intended purpose. I'm guessing it was a small specialized unit to deal with biowaste from the Crary Lab, but I really don't know. ??

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