Tons of Trash Taken from Tinicum Island

By Gian Sachdev

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, May 27, 2003 (ENS) - Forty volunteers landed on Tinicum Islandís sandy beach two weeks ago, but they were not there to relax. Instead, armed only with trash bags and protective gloves, the group began removing everything from baby dolls to syringes, just some of the roughly 50 tons of trash that has washed up on the uninhabited sliver of land cresting in the Delaware River south of Philadelphia.

The effort is part of the Forest Beautification Program, an initiative started by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) to clean up 250 unauthorized Pennsylvania dumpsites. Beginning in 1998 under the Forest Beautification Act, nearly $7.5 million is being provided over five years to clean and better monitor the stateís illegal dumping grounds. To date, 170 sites have been cleaned.

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Volunteers from Philadelphia haul bags of trash off Tinicum Island (Photos by Karen Hohman courtesy PA CleanWays)
Sue Snyder, associate project manager for PA CleanWays, the nonprofit organization hired by DCNR to oversee cleanup efforts, said that while being on an island presented volunteers with some unique challenges, their primary focus remained the same as it was for mainland cleanups.

"This is the first island weíve had to deal with so far, but then again, each of these dump sites forces you to approach every project on a case-by-case basis," she said. "Sometimes you need more hands and fewer machines, while other cleanups require heavy machinery. Either way, we go out there to clean and improve these sites."

In order to tackle Tinicum Island, the group first had to reach the site. Using two boats donated by the Delaware Bay and River Cooperation, volunteers piled onto the vessels and made a frigid 20 minute journey to the island across the river.

During this initial cleanup, they targeted a quarter mile stretch of beach along Tinicumís eastern boarder where the boats could not harm any of the island's fragile water vegetation.

Snyder speculated that more sophisticated technology would be utilized on future Tinicum cleanups to combat plastic "floatables" found in the more delicate areas.

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Pile of scrap metal and tires on Tinicum Island
Throughout the day, the boats hauled tons of collected trash back to the West End Boat Club on Pennsylvaniaís mainland in Tinicum. Whatever could not be bagged was gathered in piles on the island for future pickup.

PA CleanWays estimates that tires, barrels and plastic bottles make up the majority of debris on the island. Unlike other dump sites, most of the trash on Tinicum floats from miles upstream, causing it to decay much faster once it hits the island.

"Given my position where I see a lot of these sites, I was really surprised to see the amount of trash out there," says Bill Gothier, a watershed specialist at the Delaware County Conservation District. "The island is one giant snag."

Gothier was one of several experts asked to accompany PA CleanWays on a survey of Tinicum two weeks prior to the cleanup. After observing geese nesting next to drug needles, he began to wonder how much the trash was affecting the natural habitat for some of Tinicumís native species.

"Obviously, the geese adapted because they were building there nests, in some cases, right on top of peopleís trash," Gothier said. "But this kind of environment could be a determent for different shore birds."

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Volunteers hauled boatloads of trash off the island.
He was also shocked, he said, at the varying types of debris and garbage he and others were finding buried in the sand and wedged under logs on Tinicom. His discoveries alone included small plastic army men, rubber ducks and fishing lures.

John Miller, a forester with the DCNR Borough of Forestry in the Valley Forge Forest District, says Tinicumís deplorable condition has been well known for years, but because it is an island, it has taken longer to approach than other sites that are more accessible.

"Itís unique because thereís no road to it, so weíve had to worry a bit more about safety during the cleanups," Miller says. "Aid and donations from groups like the Delaware River Cooperation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard, however, really make a difference."

Nevertheless, with every new tide depositing a fresh batch of garbage on the island, Miller guesses it will be years before anyone is able to restore Tinicum Island to its original condition.

"Right now, our best defense is relying on local involvement and interest to monitor and take over cleaning up the site."