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Audit: Scientists in Antarctica prone to alcohol-fueled fights, indecent exposure

By Ben Hooper
A couple of cold beers chilled by the snow. An audit from the National Science Federation found scientists in Antarctica might be enjoying too many similar beverages. Photo by Igor Bukhlin/Shutterstock.com
A couple of cold beers chilled by the snow. An audit from the National Science Federation found scientists in Antarctica might be enjoying too many similar beverages. Photo by Igor Bukhlin/Shutterstock.com

WASHINGTON, Oct. 7 (UPI) -- An audit of the U.S. Antarctic Program revealed alcohol-fueled "unpredictable behavior" by scientists including "fights" and "indecent exposure."

The health and safety audit, conducted by the National Science Foundation's Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Antarctic Program, said "alcohol consumption" on the part of scientists has been found to cause "unpredictable behavior" and "has led to fights, indecent exposure, and employees arriving to work under the influence."

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The program bans alcohol consumption in work areas and during work hours, but one human resources manager interviewed for the report said about 75 percent of disciplinary actions taken by her company were related to alcohol use.

The auditors wrote they observed numerous violations in work areas -- including one researcher who was brewing his own beer in violation of the rules.

The report said scientists -- or "beakers" as they're commonly known -- often face fewer consequences than other contract workers in the program. The sentiment was echoed by Philip Broughton, who worked at the South Pole station in 2003.

"The beakers have a license to kill," Broughton told Wired. "There is little consequence for what they do down there."

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The Office of the Inspector General recommended officials increase the use of breathalyzers in alcohol-related incidents.

"Since alcohol abuse does occur in the USAP program, workplace safety could be enhanced if breathalyzer tests were administered to all USAP participants endangering themselves or others due to the influence of alcohol. We recommend that NSF review the legality of a requirement for breathalyzer for all USAP participants and establish and enforce a requirement to the extent it is legal," the audit states.

A National Science Foundation spokesman said officials are seeking to decrease alcohol-related problems, but such issues are not as prevalent as the report indicates.

"Alcohol-related misconduct is not disproportionately represented at the Antarctic stations," spokesman Peter West said.

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