But the newer condition and quantity of the debris that has been seen–”chunks of pink and blue insulation, which appear to be from buildings [and] white and black floats the size of oil barrels”–argue for the use of Occam’s Razor. This isn’t the first debris with Japanese printing to show up off our coasts: a soccer ball was returned to its owner, and a derelict fishing ship was sunk before it interfered with shipping lanes.
The problem is that it’s early. The estimated time of arrival for the debris, in whatever shape, radioactive or not (KTUU says not), was supposed to be 2014. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) has been spearheading, with Senator Mark Begich (D-AK), a multi-pronged effort to prepare for the debris and protect the West Coast from being submerged beneath it. Cantwell has asked President Obama to give the National Science Foundation emergency funds for research to help better track tsunami debris and develop response plans, and has been pressuring the administration to rethink a 25-percent budget cut for NOAA’s Marine Debris Program.
On hearing of the extent of the recent debris washing ashore, Begich released a statement that said: “The time for talk is over. The prospect of debris coming to our shorelines is not just a theory, it is here. I urge the Obama Administration to respond to our request from several weeks ago to free up funding and resources so we can effectively deal with this debris and not be scrambling when it arrives.”
That seems like common sense, but as Pallister explains: “Unlike an oil spill or industrial environmental accident, there are no easily identifiable culprits with deep pockets that can be pursued to help pay for the clean up. This will all be on the American taxpayer, so you can understand the glacial pace of the response preparation.”
NOAA has since released this somewhat ominous updated graphic illustrating their understanding of how much tsunami debris is still headed this way. You’ll want to refer to this pdf on “What to do if you see debris,” in preparation.