One year later: Is tsunami debris safe? 'Use common sense'

One year later: Is tsunami debris safe? 'Use common sense'

CORVALLIS, Ore. --  The images of the tsunami are lasting: Mother Nature wiping away cities, towns and families - civilization washed to sea.

Scientists wondered where all the wreckage from the tsunami would go, and what damage it could do.

From her research, Oregon State University scientist Dr. Kathryn Higley said she isn't too concerned the debris from the tsunami will be radioactive when it reaches the West Coast.

Higley, the head of the Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics Department at OSU, said the debris has been in the ocean for a year, and chemicals have been diluted.

"I won't say that you won't find it, you certainly probably can. But the level of radioactivity that's there is going to be really, really small," said Higley.

But that doesn't mean all that debris is safe.

"It's a debris field from ...a populated area," explained Higley. "If somebody came in and knocked down a Home Depot or knocked down a garden store, you're likely to have solvents, or pesticides, or herbicides, all manner of things."

"It's not like when they had that container ship that lost the Nike shoes," said Higley. "It's not like you're going to see a bunch of shoes coming to shore that were totally clean and not an issue. This is a debris field from construction of communities."

All of the debris could reach the West Coast by the end of this year and into 2013. As it washes on shore, Higley advised anyone who sees the debris to be smart.

"I think people really to need to just use common sense when they see things starting to arrive on the shore," said Higley. "I tell my kids, 'no, you may not pick that up and drink it, that's a bad thing.'  And so it's common sense when you see an unlabeled can of something washing up."