Public Safety

Japanese Tsunami Debris Management Plan In the Works


Debris from last year’s tsunami in Japan is headed our way and could reach our shores next year, but experts don’t believe there is cause for alarm.

The San Diego County Office of Emergency Services is coordinating with local, state and federal agencies to develop a state-wide emergency plan for documenting and handling potential debris that may wash ashore.

“Although experts believe it’s highly unlikely that any tsunami debris in San Diego County will be radioactive, we are collaborating with our emergency response partners to establish common plans, public communication, and procedures for handling potential debris,” said Holly Crawford, Office of Emergency Services director.

Scientists have said it is highly unlikely that the debris is radioactive because it did not have contact with the radioactive leak. The radioactive water leak at the Fukushima nuclear power plant occurred days after tsunami debris had already gone out to sea.

If debris does come ashore, it isn’t expected to arrive as a massive, single deposit. The debris initially washed away from Japan as a clumped debris field, visible from space. But it has since dispersed and is scattered across a large area of the North Pacific.

Ocean current experts predict some debris could wash ashore in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as early as this winter, and reach the West Coast of the United States by 2013. Or the debris could break up, sink or get caught in existing garbage patches.

What kinds of debris might wash up on the West Coast? At this time, scientists don’t know what to expect. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, California Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are all working with local, state and federal governments to create contingency plans for testing and managing any debris.

While debris from the Japanese tsunami is not expected for a year or more, marine debris is an everyday occurrence. Beachgoers are advised not to handle any unusual debris or materials that wash up. Locally, people can notify lifeguards or call 911, which will contact County Hazards Materials experts to handle the unusual debris. If any debris is spotted that appears to be related to the tsunami, people can report it to the NOAA Marine Debris Program at

For more information:

NOAA Marine Debris Program

NOAA National Ocean Service: Tracking Marine Debris from the Japanese Tsunami