LONG BEACH — July 5, community members will gather to clean up the thousands of chunks of Styrofoam that began washing up on Pacific County beaches last week.
The cleanup, hosted by the Grassroots Garbage Gang, happens three times a year — in January, April and July. But this year's summer cleanup will be especially critical because of the huge volumes of Japanese tsunami debris washing ashore, said Shelly Pollock, the group's coordinator.
Since about June 5, "three or four different kinds" of Styrofoam and "lots of plastic bottles" have been accumulating on the beach in previously unseen quantities, Pollock said in a phone interview Thursday.
Most area residents believe the foam chunks are the first wave of debris from last year's Japanese tsunami to wash up on North American shores, said Stephanie Fritts, who coordinates emergency management for Pacific County.
The influx of Japanese debris, which includes an entire dock that landed recently near Newport, Ore., has suddenly mobilized a public agency response. Monday, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire and other state officials and experts will hold a press conference in Ocean Shores, where they will discuss their approach to debris cleanup. They'll also demonstrate how a Geiger counter is used to monitor the debris for any radiation caused by the nuclear reactor accident that followed the earthquake and tsunami.
Radioactivity, however, hardly is the most immediate concern for the Long Beach Peninsula, Fritts said.
"There is no effort going on to monitor for radiation" locally, Fritts said. During talks with experts in February, Fritts said, experts "assured us that there was no possibility of radiation."
In addition to the cosmetic issue of having a popular tourist destination littered with garbage, locals are concerned about the harm the foam could do to wildlife. As wind and waves batter them, Styrofoam chunks are breaking down into smaller bits, which could be eaten by animals.
"We're always worried about wildlife. The smaller the pieces get, the harder the pieces are to get out of our environment. Like plastic, it never goes away, it never breaks down," Pollock said.
Local residents already are heading out to the beach in large numbers to collect the trash. Pollock, though, emphasizes that the Grassroots Garbage Gang will still need "a lot of help" during its July 5 cleanup and in the months to come.
"Our largest concern is, this is the first wave — is there any more coming, and if so, will people continue to be concerned? I hope the community would continue to give support even after the initial wave of debris hits."
Participating in the cleanup day is fun and easy, said Pollock, who estimates that at least 1,000 volunteers will be needed to get the job done. Interested parties can "just show up at 9:30" at any of the major entrance points to the beach. Volunteers will be on hand to offer guidance and garbage bags for participants.
"They can go out and clean for two or three hours, and leave the beach feeling really satisfied and happy. ... People always leave the beach with huge smiles on their faces, saying 'I can't believe how fun that was!' " Pollock said.