NEW YORK — Volunteers in a nationwide beach cleanup have picked up hundreds of tons of plastic trash, refuse from foreign countries and debris traceable to cruise ships, but the project coordinator said Monday that the coasts "aren't awash with medical waste" and that plastic trash is causing the most problems.
More than 700 tons of debris has been collected from 1,800 miles of shoreline in 16 states and Puerto Rico, Kathy O'Hara, a marine biologist with the Center for Environmental Education, said. Information from eight other states and Costa Rica remained to be compiled.
"We found medical wastes in most states, but we are not going to see an overwhelming amount of it," O'Hara said, adding that such items amount to a "minuscule" percentage of all beach debris.
She said discarded plastic items are the No. 1 beach debris problem, since some types cannot be expected to disintegrate for 400 years. Also, plastic trash can kill marine animals that eat it or become entangled in it. Sea turtles have been found strangled with plastic six-pack collars around their necks.
About 40,000 volunteers have participated in the work, and O'Hara said that in most cases, they made specific reports of what was found on the beaches.
She said the project aims not only to clean the beaches, but also to compile a data base on how much and what kinds of wastes are washing ashore.