The spring cleanup of Washington’s coastal beaches is set for April 17.
Last year, nearly 3,000 volunteers collected for safe disposal some 64 tons of litter, including consumer plastics and lost fishing gear, according to the Washington Clean Coast Alliance.
Left in the environment, the debris can kill birds and marine life and spoil the beauty of coastal beaches, alliance officials said.
This year, the state Department of Ecology is asking volunteers to be on the lookout for 1-liter aluminum canisters that might contain residues of a pesticide that could be hazardous to human health.
The suspect canisters contain aluminum phosphide, a fumigant commonly placed in the holds of ships to kill insects and pests and protect corn, oats, soybeans, wheat and other grain shipped across the Pacific Ocean.
From spring 2008 to early 2009, about 65 empty canisters were spotted or picked up along the Washington coastline from the Long Beach Peninsula to Port Angeles, according to Ecology officials.
All of the canisters found washed ashore were empty with plastic caps in place, and no injuries have been reported from contact with the canisters in Washington, said Jim Sachet, Ecology’s spill-response supervisor for coastal Washington.
When exposed to air, aluminum phosphide becomes toxic phosphine gas, which has a strong garlic odor.
“The work these volunteer beach crews do for our shorelines is immeasurable,” he said. “The fact that they sometimes find potentially harmful debris like these canisters only underscores the importance of their work.”
In fall 2009, Ecology and the state Department of Agriculture worked with fumigation companies, grain-export ports, shippers and shipping agents to ensure the canisters were disposed of properly.
Ecology has not received any reports of these unmarked canisters washing ashore on Washington’s coastline this year.
If anyone finds a canister, the lid should not be removed, the canister should be stored above the waterline, and the canister’s location should be reported to Ecology at 360-407-6300, officials said.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444
For a list of beaches scheduled for cleanup and information about how to get involved, visit www.coastsavers.org.