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Climate change hampers DEW Line site toxic clean up in Arctic Canada

CBC NewsEye on the Arctic

Work is almost done on dismantling the DEW Line — one of the biggest clean-up projects in Canada.

But climate change has made the work to clean up the string of Cold War-era radar stations across the Arctic a little trickier for the engineers burying the toxic waste.

Greg Johnson, who is directing the cleanup at Cape Dyer for Qikiqtaaluk Environmental, said at the DEW Line site on Baffin Island, in Canada's eastern Arctic territory of Nunavut, a small, melting glacier reveals more garbage every year.

"Last year it was partially covered in snow all season," he said. "This year there's no snow on it."

The worst contamination is shipped south for disposal. Some waste that's less contaminated will be left on site, sealed and buried in the permafrost. Now they have to dig deeper than before — three metres — to reach frozen soil.

Dave Eagles, who manages the DEW Line clean-up for the Canada Department of National Defence, said erosion is also becoming a problem.

"These 100-year storms are happening every couple of years, so obviously the models that said it happens once in 100 years are no longer valid," he said. "So we're having to armour the sides of landfills more than anticipated."

Cape Dyer was the easternmost DEW Line site in Canada, so it served as a communications and logistical hub. That's meant more trash, more contaminated soil and for National Defence, a bigger remediation project than most other DEW Line sites.

The site is the last to be cleaned up by National Defence. The work should be completed next year.

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.