IN THE NEWS ~ Tsunami debris not likely radioactive, Ottawa says

Peter O'Neil, Vancouver Sun, CANADA & WORLD, Page: B3


The bulk of B.C.-destined debris from Japan's tsunami disaster in March

of 2011 is expected to arrive on the province's shores in early 2013, but

chances are remote that any material will be radioactive, according to the

federal government.

The debris moved away from Japan's shores several days before

radioactive material was released from the dam-aged Fukushima nuclear plant,

and only a small percentage of the debris originates from the Fukushima area,

Health Canada said in documents tabled in Parliament this week.

"For any items that were contaminated, prior to arriving on Canada's

West Coast much of the contamination would have been removed through

degradation and dispersion of the material at sea," the department said in

response to questions from B.C. New Democrat Peter Julian.

Report rebuts warning

The report rebuts a warning earlier this month from provincial New

Democratic Party MLA Scott Fraser, who suggested B.C. could face dire

consequences due to an allegedly lax response to the debris issue by the

federal and provincial governments.

Both governments "have a responsibility to ensure the aftermath of

that horrible disaster in Japan doesn't become a disaster for West Coast

com-munities," he told a Vancouver Island newspaper.

Julian said the government's response is unconvincing since it indicates

Ottawa has so far spent only $11,000 on ocean radioactivity sampling. The U.S.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has set aside $600,000

for cleanup, while Washington State Gov. Chris-tine Gregoire said in June that

her state will set aside at least $100,000.

"The Americans are taking this seriously, the Canadian government

isn't," Julian said.

The documents tabled in response to Julian's questions show numerous

federal departments have been working with B.C. ministries as well as U.S.

state officials on plans to deal with the debris moving slowly across the


The bulk of the B.C.-destined debris - mostly in small chunks - will

begin arriving in the first half of 2012 and peak around March 2014. It will

remain present along the coast for at least three years after that at reduced

levels, the documents state.

But some debris has already made the journey.

Debris routinely spotted

Plastic and Styrofoam from the disaster has been routinely spotted along

the U.S. and Canadian coast-lines for months, and some larger pieces, such as a

fishing vessel spotted in Alaskan waters in March, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle

that landed in Haida Gwaii in April and a massive dock that arrived on the

Oregon coast in June, signal more substantial pieces may be on the way.

According to a study from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the majority of

the debris landing on the North American coast will arrive on the shores of

Washington, Oregon, and California.

However more than 90 per cent of the debris that left Japan may never

wash ashore even after five years, the report said, and is instead expected to

circulate in the "North Pacific Garbage Patch" - a large expanse of

ocean northeast of Hawaii where floating ocean junk, especially plastics, tends

to accumulate due to wind-driven cur-rent patterns.

Plans underway

A Tsunami Debris Coordinating Committee co-chaired by Environment Canada

and the B.C. environment ministry is working with B.C. municipal governments,

First Nations, U.S. federal and state governments, and other stakeholders on

plans to deal with the arrival of the debris, the government documents said.

Several national and provincial parks on Haida Gwaii and the west coast

of Vancouver Island are already participating in a debris monitoring program.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), meanwhile, is still testing

food imports from Japan to ensure no food products - especially seafood - are


The CFIA issued a preliminary report last spring saying that tests of

imported Japanese food products and domestically produced milk in B.C. showed

radiation levels below the Health Canada threshold for required action.

But the documents tabled in the House of Commons noted that the agency

will be studying Japanese food products in Vancouver during the 2012-13 fiscal

year as part of a semi-regular Health Canada analysis of contaminants in

Canada's food sup-ply that began in 1969.

"The CFIA with Health Canada continues to monitor food for

radionu-clides through the Total Diet Study (TDS). For 2012-13 the focus will

be on testing food products from Japan, in the Vancouver area."

[email protected] Read my blog, Letter from Ottawa, at ILLUS: Bill Wagner, The Daily News, The Associated Press

Files / Pieces of an 18-foot Japanese fishing boat washed up on Benson Beach

near North Head at Cape Disappointment State Park at Ilwaco, Wash., on June 15.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada claims more than 90 per cent of the garbage that

left Japan may end up in the 'North Pacific Garbage Patch.

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