This is a general Safety Warning, particularly for those who live in ocean front areas and is applicable to any country too...

Marine markers spark concern at beaches

Elaine Marshall Times Colonist June 25, 2004

CREDIT: John McKay/ Times Colonist

When Ucluelet high school students found an aluminum cylinder washed up on a beach, they took it to the home of a teacher and cracked it open.

Smoke began pouring out and the cylinder became very hot. The teacher called 911 which, according to Petty Officer 2nd class Dale Thomas, was the right thing to do.

Thomas, of the Fleet Dive Unit's explosive ordinance disposal team, said the cylinder the students found this spring was a marine location marker.

Used by the navy to mark a location on the water, markers contain phosphorus, which ignites on exposure to oxygen, generating smoke. Activated by salt water, markers can last for up to 30 minutes, making location and retrieval of anything or anyone in the water easier and quicker.

Thomas warned that if markers turn up on a beach, they must be handled with extreme caution because they can be very dangerous, as the students found out.

"We've had a couple of incidents where people would pick them up, take them to their homes, drop them, or reignite them," Thomas said. "It's a real danger."

When the markers are ignited, he said, flames can jump up to a foot out of the cylinder, exposing people to serious burns or fire. In the early 1980s, an RCMP officer picked up a marker while he was on patrol. He put it in the back of his cruiser, where it stayed until igniting a few days later, destroying the police car. The officer was unhurt.

With beaches becoming busier in summer, the team is warning anyone who finds a marine location marker to call 911 so experts can safely dispose of it.

Thomas said that while many of the markers that wash up on beaches are spent, some may still contain phosphorous. Still others may not have activated at all and carry their full load of phosphorous. If these are jarred or opened, they can ignite.

"If they start up, it's almost impossible to shut them down," Thomas said.

Thomas's unit, which is responsible for Vancouver Island south of Campbell River, may find up to 30 of these a year. Though there haven't been any serious accidents yet, Thomas said the danger is real.

If a marker, which is marked "Danger," is discovered, the disposal team will collect it, taping up both ends to protect the phosphorous within, before transporting it to an ammunition dump. There, explosive specialists place them on a concrete pad where, after soaking the area around the pad to prevent an accidental fire, they are detonated safely. Several minutes after detonation, the remains of the cylinders still smoke.

"If you find these, don't pick them up," Thomas said. "Mark them in the area, don't touch them and phone 911."

Times Colonist (Victoria) 2004

I am pretty sure that all navies of the world use these markers, and would not be suprised if they were used in commercial applications too. Dkblram would be one of the expert advisors on that part.