Mysterious silver-colored canisters found along the Washington coast once contained rat poison and should not be handled, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Ecology says.
“We need to communicate to people how to report them and to leave them alone,” Kim Schmanke said Thursday.
Hundreds of the one-liter canisters, apparently made in China, have been found as far south as Ocean Shores to as far north as Ozette since last summer, she said.
They came to the attention of the state Ecology Department only last weekend when some were displayed at the Beachcomber’s Fun Fair at Ocean Shores, officials said.
“We collected two Wednesday and tested them Thursday morning,” Schmanke said.
“Tests confirmed a small amount of phosphine gas, which is a product of aluminum phosphide used to kill rodents and other pests aboard cargo ships.
“Any other canisters possibly could be contaminated.
“It’s a poison. It’s meant to kill.”
The silver-colored one-liter canisters are about 10 inches long with red or white plastic caps.
When the aluminum phosphide contained in the canisters is exposed to air, it becomes a toxic gas, Schmanke said.
If it is exposed to water, it changes to a more benign chemical compound similar to baking soda, she said.
But these canisters weren’t rinsed or aired out so they still contained the toxic chemicals.
“It’s a mystery to us regarding the specific source, although we have some suspicions,” she said.
Ecology is trying to find out how many of the canisters are involved and where they are located.
One person in Ocean Shores reported that he’s seen as many as 100 since last summer, Schmanke said.