Antarctic scientists face breathalyzer tests due to alcohol-fueled fighting and ‘indecent exposure’

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Breathalyzers could be used to curb alcohol abuse among scientists at US bases in Antarctica following “unpredictable behavior” caused by excess drinking, including fights and indecent exposure.

Officials from the National Science Foundation told an audit of healthy and safety at the two US-run bases — McMurdo Station and the South Pole — that drinking has led to “unpredictable behavior that has led to fights, indecent exposure, and employees arriving to work under the influence”, according to a report in Wired.

The agency is reportedly considering shipping several breathalyzers to the isolated stations, which together house up to about 1,150 people, including scientists and support staff.

But such a move could potentially pose legal and administrative problems, as Antarctica is not US territory and it is not clear who would conduct the tests and what rights of appeal would be available.

Complicating matters further, the South Pole station is at a high altitude which could reportedly prevent the breathalyzer tests from working properly.

The agency insisted that drinking was not out of control but it wanted to prevent alcohol-related problems.

“Alcohol-related misconduct is not disproportionately represented at the Antarctic stations,” an NSF official told Wired in a statement.

Several countries have research bases in Antarctica, including Britain, France and Russia. Each has its own rules about consumption of alcohol.

The British Antarctic Survey, which has four all-year research stations and one that operates only during the summer, has a detailed policy on alcohol and drug use at its stations.

The agency says it recognizes that “alcohol can play a useful role in providing a diversion from the pressures of work when used in moderation” but has strict rules to prevent staff working while unduly influenced by alcohol. It allows alcohol to be served at specific occasions such as “the visit of a VIP, a retirement, Midwinter celebration or Christmas”.

The US officials said the problem of excess drinking was less significant than the cultural divide between scientists and contractors at the bases.


Source: The Telegraph; Jonathan Pearlman, Sydney