What to do when you encounter hazardous marine debris

People enjoy Washington’s coastal beaches in many ways including digging razor clams, bird watching, surfing and just taking pleasure being on the beach.

Beach visitors are encouraged to leave beaches better than they find them, and take part  in helping clean up the increase in marine debris our coastal beaches are seeing following the March 11, 2011, Japan tsunami.

However, there’s a big difference between nonhazardous debris like Styrofoam, nylon rope and netting, paper and plastic bottles – which makes up the majority of the debris found on our beaches – and items that could be hazardous. Beachgoers should never move or touch potentially hazardous materials including:

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has posted a Hazardous Marine Debris Handbook developed by the government of Japan. The handbook is designed to help advise U.S. beachgoers as well as emergency responders about debris items that could contain potentially hazardous materials.

There has been a reported increase in the number of potentially hazardous items washing ashore on Washington’s coastal beaches. Since Jan. 1, 2014, the state Department of Ecology has handled more than 20 reports of possible dangerous debris including gas cylinders, large drums, and fuel containers. In an average year, Ecology typically handles just six to 10 such reports on the coastal shoreline.

One of these reported items has been confirmed as Japan tsunami debris — a cylinder found Feb. 23, 2013 at Leadbetter Point (Long Beach, Pacific County). NOAA works with the Consulate-General of Japan in Seattle to confirm the origin of items when enough identifying markers exist on them.

Precaution important

Precaution is really important because Washington relies heavily on the efforts of selfless, dedicated volunteers and citizen actions to help keep our beaches clean.

One way to stay safe is looking for specific hazard symbols and labels when you encounter debris.

Another is to always put safety first -- if you encounter something on the beach and you’re not sure what it is, don’t move it or touch it – especially if you see any indication an item might be toxic, corrosive or flammable, contain an explosive, biohazard or pose any other threat.

Let the professionals handle it instead.

Reporting

It’s also important to report marine debris suspected to be from the March 11, 2011, Japan tsunami to NOAA at DisasterDebris@noaa.gov.

NOAA is the lead agency for predicting how marine debris is likely moving in the ocean, including debris from the tragic March 11, 2011 tsunami that struck Japan. They are the best source for Japan tsunami marine debris information. For more information about marine debris in Washington, including potential Japan tsunami debris, visit the state’s Tsunami / Marine Debris website.