The trades group has been busy with repairs to the station sewage outfall line over the past week. Casey has a sewage treatment plant, much like any town, only on a smaller scale. It is a very important part of our station environmental management that all wastes, human or otherwise, are properly treated on site and/or returned to Australia for appropriate treatment and disposal. Several days ago, we found that the outfall pipe was icing up and being blocked. A good pointer to there being a problem was the electric heat trace somewhere in the line. Down here the weather is so cold that the sewage pipe needs to be kept constantly warm so that sewage flows and doesn’t just freeze and block the pipes. This is achieved by a current being generated through electrical wire running along the side of each pipe, under the insulation. If there is a break of some sort in the wire then the current doesn’t flow, the pipe cools and everything freezes solid. Not a good place to be. Fortunately for us the problem was in the part of the system that deals with treated wastes. It could have been much worse.
So after some days work the heat trace failure was traced back to a junction between the treatment plant and the outfall point, about 100 metres from the end. Of course the break was in a tricky spot (junction in a curved piece of pipe) that itself was buried under about a metre of snow over a metre of solid ice. A whole new piece of pipe with trace needed to be fitted, involving both plumbers (Jamie and Rob) and both electricians (Phill and Jeb) but firstly with heavy plant and chainsaws the ice and snow needed to be cleared to get to the pipe. Enter Misty and Jon, the station plant operators. After a considerable amount of work the ice and snow was cleared (including plenty of time by the team on the end of snow shovels). Then we had a blizzard for about four days and the hole filled up again. Such are the challenges of working in Antarctica.
So the pipe was dug out again. But basically, once the pipe is cut, the new pipe needs to be inserted, heat trace wired up and insulation put in place all in one day. Of course daylight at Casey at the moment officially lasts for less than five and a half hours so the whole exercise needs additional lighting, careful timing and everything prepared in advance. By the way, did I say it was also cold?
Anyway, in the end the pipe was fixed. And whilst it is easy to focus on the difficulties of the job, all of us are aware that if we had needed to do the job in a month’s time, it would have been a lot colder and a lot darker. So it’s good to have it out of the way and know that the system is in top working condition for the remainder of the winter.
Jamie Lowe, Building Services Supervisor and Plumber