Cigarette butts, fast food bags, used diapers and bottles full of urine are all in a day’s work for the Department of Ecology’s Youth Corps, which works through mid-August to clean up Washington roadways. More unusual was the pipe bomb found by a crew working in southern Washington last week.
“They find all sorts of things along the roadside,” said Jani Gilbert, public information officer for the Department of Ecology’s Eastern Washington Office. “The pipe bomb was obviously very dangerous, but no one got hurt.” Car parts, blown tires and bags full of garbage are more common and not quite as potentially harmful items.
In 2011, Ecology Youth Corps crews cleaned 5,225 miles of roadway, picking up 505 tons of litter and recycling 90 tons of that. In Spokane County alone, the Youth Corps picked up 15,458 pounds of trash along 192 miles of roadway last year.
The crews are staffed by 14- to 17-year-olds, and the first group is already at work. The second round of crews takes over July 23 and works through Aug. 17. This summer, 18 youths on three crews will work in Spokane County.
Areas around Chewelah, Clarkston, Colville, Ephrata, Inchelium, Moses Lake, Othello, Pasco, Pullman, Republic, Ritzville, Spokane, Walla Walla and Wilbur can expect to see cleanup crews along local roads.
Watch reporter Pia Hallenberg discuss this issue on KHQ.com
Motorists are encouraged to slow down when they see the orange “Ecology youth working” sign.
“Safety is our No. 1 priority,” said Gary Lambacher, regional litter administrator and coordinator of the Ecology Youth Corps. “We are proud of the work our youth does, and we need everyone’s help watching out for their safety while they’re out on the roadsides.”
The biggest problem is bottles and bags containing human waste. “I would say that’s the most egregious thing, and it’s getting worse every year,” Gilbert said. “We don’t know what to do about it except appeal to drivers to use the rest areas.”
The Youth Corps is not allowed to pick up or touch human waste-filled containers, because of the health risks.
“We would never ask the kids to do anything that would put them at risk,” said Gilbert.
No state agency or department picks up the human waste.
The Youth Corps also finds a large amount of personal letters, registrations, licenses and different kinds of identification cards. However, throwing stuff out the car window is not a surefire way to get rid of unwanted mail and old love letters:
“If we can find an address then we mail the documents back,” Gilbert said.