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Creosote clean-up scheduled at beach

A major creosote log and debris clean-up is scheduled for next week at Double Bluff Beach. Local contractor Tony Frantz, here at Double Bluff Beach, expects to remove about 400 pieces of toxic wood. - Michaela Marx Wheatley
A major creosote log and debris clean-up is scheduled for next week at Double Bluff Beach. Local contractor Tony Frantz, here at Double Bluff Beach, expects to remove about 400 pieces of toxic wood.
— image credit: Michaela Marx Wheatley

FREELAND — Even though Tony Frantz won’t start creosote log clean-up work at Double Bluff Beach until Tuesday, he has been at the beach everyday lately combing through the driftwood.

“Kids build forts with it,” he said with a concerned face.

Frantz pointed to a big pile of dark, contaminated debris tucked away in a remote corner of the beach.

“I pulled this out of their forts,” he said.

Frantz is an independent contractor who will clean-up chemically treated wood swept ashore at Double Bluff Beach next week. He’s also led past projects to rid Whidbey’s shores of the toxic wood.

The work will start Tuesday and should be completed by June 6. All work will be done between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m.

The creosote treated logs are frequently found at local beaches. However, during the hot summer months ahead, toxic chemicals may begin oozing out of the wood and soaking into the ground.

Creosote poses a health risk for animals, humans and the environment in general, Frantz said.

“They call it the witches brew, because it kills everything it comes in contact with,” Frantz said.

The Washington Department of Natural Resources in cooperation with Island County Parks are sponsoring the clean-up project as a part of the Puget Sound Partnership.

It’s part of a larger Sound-wide effort to remove creosote-treated debris from the marine and estuarine waters. More than 400 tons of debris has been removed from Island County’s beaches alone since 2004.

Frantz expects to remove about 400 pieces creosote wood from the short stretch of Double Bluff Beach. The last clean-up at Double Bluff was conducted in 2005.

“It’s coming from abandoned docks and wharfs, landslides. Usually, it’s storms that beat up the old structures,” Frantz said. “But there’s also a lot of illegal dumping. Because we find a lot fresh.”

Frantz added that this year’s clean-up efforts may be especially challenging, because winter storms have pushed debris deep into marshes and far away from the shore.

Frantz warns beachgoers to stay away from driftwood that looks dark or shiny. He said he once had to go to the hospital for creosote poisoning after inhaling too many toxins early in his career.

Creosote coal tar contains dozens of carcinogens that are easily absorbed through the skin. It is deadly to forage fish eggs and other marine organisms.

This material hides in plain sight, but turns gray over time and is hard to tell apart from the color of natural driftwood.

“If the chemicals were in drum with toxic printed on it, leaking onto the sand, everybody would want it cleaned up,” Frantz said.

“Being a piece of wood changes the perception,” he added. But the awareness has grown in recent years and so more and more clean-up efforts are being launched.

Even though creosote is swept ashore every day, Frantz said the tide is slowly turning.

“We’re putting a dent in it,” he said.

To learn more about creosote and disposal of treated materials, go to the Website www.pscap.net.

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