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Japan Tsunami Debris Reaches Alaska Headed For West Coast Beaches

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Published on May 8, 2012

"It's safe to say that tsunami debris is here," said Merrick Burden, director of the Juneau-based Marine Conservation Alliance Foundation.

Since January, the MCA has been tracking where and what kinds of debris is coming ashore, and whether it is radioactive (none so far) at Kodiak, Yakutat, Sitka and Craig, where wreckage was expected to hit first.

"What we're finding are wind- driven objects like buoys, Styrofoam and large containers, some of which contain materials that are potentially toxic," Burden said. "We're finding drums full of things that we don't know what they are yet. So we're looking at a potential large-scale environmental problem, and what we're dealing with now is just the start of it."

Debris has been found in every area checked, Burden said, and mysterious sludge is washing up on some beaches, apparently from opened containers. Just days ago, an enormous amount of floating debris was spotted off the southern reaches of Prince William Sound, making national headlines. But the worst is yet to come.

"Next year is when we expect the larger debris that is driven by currents rather than wind," he cautioned. "That should be composed of entirely different types of materials, and it might even follow a different trajectory through the water and end up in different locations."

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