Sound Stories. Sound Voices.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
You are on the KUOW archive site. Click here to go to our current site.
KUOW's environment beat brings you stories on the ongoing cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, alternative energy, the health of the Puget Sound, coal transportation and more. We're also partnered with several stations across the Northwest to bring you environmental news via EarthFix.

Bath Toys, Nikes Wash Ashore; Oceanographer Worries Radiation Will Too

In 1990, a cargo container dropped 80,000 Nike sneakers overboard. The shoes washed ashore for the next decade.

Two years later, in 1992, another container in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean accidentally released 29,000 bathtub toys. They continue to float to land.

Curtis Ebbesmeyer, a retired oceanographer, has made a second career researching and collecting flotsam, ocean debris that has been pulled ashore. But he’s also concerned about the invisible dangers that move through the dark ocean waters: Styrofoam ground into sand being eaten by birds and, since the 2011 tsunami that hit Japan, radiation.

Reports so far have indicated that radiation will be too diluted to have much effect on US shores. But Ebbesmeyer told The Record’s Steve Scher that there isn’t enough data to come to a conclusion.

“I don’t want to come back 20 years from now and say, ‘Gee, we should have measured that, because it was harmful,’” he said. “We have pretty good computer models of water movement and dispersion, but that’s not real data.”

He said a several year partnership between the Japanese and the US, involving five ships zig-zagging across the Pacific, would put his mind at ease: “Then we’ll know, and we can say to our children, ‘We did a good job. We weren’t sure, but we were worried about you, and we went out and measured it just to make sure that we could come back and say there was no danger.’”