HOBART, Australia (AP) _ Officials began an ambitious project Sunday to tackle Antarctic pollution, launching a cleanup of the continent's contaminated waste sites.

Fifty containers designed to carry and confine rubbish from Antarctic research station garbage dumps set sail for Casey station from Hobart.

Researcher Ian Snape told an Antarctic waste management seminar last week that waste disposal in the sensitive polar environment had stopped but past practices were a pressing concern.

``Many stations in Antarctica now have large abandoned waste disposal sites, some of which extend into the marine environment,'' Snape said. ``Unfortunately the types of materials that were disposed of in this way are sources of contamination that are persistent in the environment.''

Pre-1980s disposal methods of research-base waste, such as rubbish dumps, water dumping and open burning, have left a legacy of polluted sites in the mostly pristine Antarctic.

A 1998 agreement committed all countries working in Antarctica to remove all newly generated waste and old waste unless the action of transporting it caused more environmental damage.

Contamination and leaching has made the volume of garbage to be removed far greater than the amount of material originally taken to Antarctica.

Snape said the containers will be filled with rubbish from the dump at Casey station during the next two years. Work will be done slowly to ensure contaminants are not released into nearby seas when the site is disturbed.