Tsumani debris may strike the West Coast for years

This massive dock that landed in Oregon is the likely the tip of the debris maelstrom to hit the West Coast for years to come

Seven feet tall, nineteen feet wide and 66 feet long, the concrete and metal dock that washed ashore in Newport, Oregon is a stunning residual remnant of last year’s Fukushima disaster. An awesome sight, the derelict dock that made the more than 6,500 mile trek from Minamisoma, Japan is a harbinger of serious debris yet to come.

Officials had estimated that debris from Japan would find its way to the U.S. West Coast by 2013, at the earliest. Now they’re scrambling to come up with a strategy and funding to handle what’s anticipated to be a massive and longer-than-projected clean-up.

“You can collect debris in any number of ways, but how do you dispose of it?” asked Chris Havel, spokesperson for the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, . “Putting your hands on it is the beginning of the tale and finding a final resting place for it, whether it’s reuse, recycling or landfill, is the other question. There is no single budget capable of handling what is predicted to be the volume over the two-year period.”

Estimates put the amount of debris from the tsunami at 4 to 8 million tons, the majority of which could hit the Pacific Garbage Patch

It’s estimated that 4 to 8 million tons of debris was washed into the Pacific Ocean following the tsunami.  And it’s not only Oregon, California and Washington state that will be impacted by this environmental cataclysm.

Nikolai Maximenko, a senior researcher with the Hawaii-based International Pacific Research Center, said “estimates from our model suggest that at least 95% of the debris that has not sunk will move into the North Pacific Garbage Patch, where it may stay for years, break up into smaller pieces, and mix with old marine debris that has accumulated there over the years.”

The Hawaiian islands are particularly at risk from the estimated 1 million to 2 million tons of debris still floating in the ocean, he said.

Officials in Oregon and Washington state are looking at ways to fund the massive clean-up, particularly in regards to invasive species that have come along for the ride that could cause serious harm to native local habitat.

The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department had asked for bids to landfill the dock, reuse it or recycle it. Bids ranged from $80,000 for landfilling it to $115,000 for reuse. Oregon chose to accept the low bid.

The debris from Japan could put the Hawaiian islands at risk for years

State officials will be meeting with the Oregon Refuse and Recycling Network to work out disposal plans for other debris.

At a recent press conference in Washington, Gov. Christine Gregoire announced that the state’s Military Department Emergency Management Division would take the lead on tsunami debris cleanup efforts. But she’s hoping the federal government will take the lead to finance the effort.

With a tough economy, a tight budget and bad timing, not finding ways to reuse at least the larger pieces of debris that are finding their way to our left-hand coast is definitely a seriously wasted opportunity, though it’s an understandable one. Would that it were as simple an issue to solve as opening your garage doors to find a missing tool.

With what’s likely coming to join the already burgeoning Pacific Garbage Patch, the efforts of organizations such as Upcycle the Gyres, Method and others are even more crucial.

But one thing’s for sure. The “opportunity” is coming, whether we like it or not. What we do about it can either be business as usual or a big step forward.

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