Crews pulled creosote-covered wood off of beaches

CAMANO ISLAND — Workers removed nearly 30 tons of creosote-covered wood and other debris Thursday at Iverson Spit and other beaches along Livingston Bay, an important estuarine habitat that supports fish, shorebirds and marine mammals.

Of that debris, which filled three 20-yard dumpsters, about 40 percent — or almost 12 tons — was creosote itself.

The state Department of Natural Resources is on a mission to get creosote out of the inland marine waters, said David Roberts, with the aquatics division of the department.

Now regulated as a hazardous waste, creosote is made from coal tar and contains more than 300 chemicals. For nearly a century, the pitchy substance routinely was used as a preservative and painted on telephone poles, fence posts, railroad ties, piers, docks and pilings.

The surface of marine pilings was often coated with several inches of creosote. The problem is, Roberts said, it has contributed to the decline of herring, smelt and salmon in the Puget Sound region.

The chemicals in creosote can cause cancer, abnormalities, deformities and death in many marine organisms. When exposed to the sun, the chemicals in creosote become even more toxic and are more likely to leach from the pilings. Children climbing on old treated logs at the beach can suffer from chemical burns on their skin, and if the wood is burned in a beach fire, toxic chemical vapors can be inhaled.

Department of Natural Resources officials plan to remove an estimated 100 tons of creosote material from the Port Susan area between Stanwood and Camano Island. The ecologically sensitive area, which includes Livingston Bay, is known for its marshes and its importance for thousands of birds as a migratory stopover along the Pacific Flyway.

Hundreds of landowners were contacted about the removal of creosote soaked materials from their beaches. On Thursday, HiLine Helicopters began lifting the debris off the beaches.

A crew of about 15 people worked on the beach, bundling logs and filling huge bags of contaminated material to hook onto the helicopter cable.

Next, the debris will be taken to a secured landfill in Klickitat County, Roberts said.

Other organizations involved in the cleanup include the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, Island County, Twin City Foods, the Nature Conservancy, the Whidbey-Camano Land Trust, Washington Conservation Corps and EarthCorps.

“Removing these creosote-soaked logs from Port Susan and Livingston Bay is important for restoring the health of Puget Sound and protecting the health of all of us who live, work and play here,” said Karen Anderson, state director for the Nature Conservancy.

The work at Iverson Spit is part of a long-term effort by the state, Roberts said.

“We’re looking for lagoons and bays such as Livingston, where there are high concentrations of debris and marine life,” he said.

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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