Dept. of Ecology, Coast Guard tracking canisters found on ocean beaches

OLYMPIA – The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) and Coast Guard are at Ocean Shores, Wash., today trying to track down the location of mysterious one-liter canisters that have been showing up on shorelines.

According to reports from local residents, these silver-colored containers with red or white plastic caps have been spotted on the beaches since last fall, but no one reported them to the agencies until this week. Calls received today indicate they’ve been located as far north as La Push, Wash., south to Ocean Park.

Ecology collected two canisters yesterday. Tests confirmed the presence of a small amount of phosphine gas — a product of aluminum phosphide – which is used to kill rodents and other pests aboard cargo ships.

When aluminum phosphide is exposed to air, it becomes a toxic gas. If exposed to water, it changes to a more benign chemical compound similar to baking soda.

So far, all of the canisters that have been found appear to be empty. But Ecology and Coast Guard caution people to leave the canisters in place and keep children and pets away. People who see or have picked up canisters are asked to report their find to Ecology by calling 360-407-6300.

The Coast Guard plans to scan the beaches from Ocean Shores north to Ozette, Wash., over the next couple of days. Ecology will arrange to pick up any canisters reported by citizens.

Additional information, including pictures, is available at the Department of Ecology’s Incident Web site.

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