Washington state mudslide recovery crews are up against toxic materials in their search for remains.

The Washington Mudslide Search Team Has More Than Mud to Worry About

The Washington Mudslide Search Team Has More Than Mud to Worry About

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April 1 2014 3:58 PM

The Washington Mudslide Search Team Has More Than Mud to Worry About

Crews work at the Oso mudslide site on March 29, 2014 in Oso, Washington.

Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images

The death toll from last week's mudslide in western Washington now stands at 27, with another 22 people still missing, officials there said today. As of the latest update, 19 of the confirmed had been IDed, all of whom lived in the landslide area. Of the missing, at least 16 are believed to have once lived on Oso's Steelhead Drive, which was in the direct pat of the slide and is now, in the words of the New York Times, "buried and robbed of any landmark or sign by which one might even find it."

In case wading through the mud wasn't enough of a challenge for those doing the searching, the powerful slide also brought with it debris from the town that's creating a toxic environment, via the Guardian:

Sewage, propane, household solvents and other chemicals all lie beneath the surface of the gray mud and rubble that covered a square mile of a small, rural community and left dozens dead and missing north-east of Seattle.
"We're worried about dysentery, we're worried about tetanus, we're worried about contamination," local fire lieutenant Richard Burke, a spokesman for the operation, told reporters visiting the disaster site on Sunday. "The last thing we want to do is take any of these contaminants out of here and take them into town, back to our families."

As a result, crews are being especially cautious, taping their boots to trousers to protect against the sludge and cleaning thoroughly before they leave the site. All that will only make an already slow-going process that much slower. "This is going to be a hazardous materials site for many years while we try to get this cleaned up," Burke said.