Police are warning the public to be on a lookout for metal canisters after one was washed up on a beach on the Far North Coast this morning.

A 66-year-old man was walking along Salt Beach at Kingscliff shortly before 7.30am today (4 January) when he noticed a metal canister covered in barnacles on the sand.

The man was concerned there had been similar canisters washed up on Queensland beaches in recent months, so he took the item home and called local police.

A Hazmat team from Fire and Rescue NSW rendered the canister safe and it is now awaiting disposal.

It’s believed this is the first such canister to be handed to police in NSW.

Police have received advice the canisters contain rat poison (aluminium phosphide), which could be fatal if inhaled or ingested; they are now concerned about the risk to anyone attempting to open one.

“While we are attempting to locate the source of the items, we’ve been advised that – judging by the barnacle growth – these have been in the water for some time,” Tweed/Byron Duty Officer, Inspector Greg Jago, said.

“We believe the contents are toxic and there is a significant potential risk to anyone who tries to open the canister. If you see one, leave it alone and alert authorities.”

The canisters are described as being about 30cm long and made of steel; there were no labels or markings on the canister, and barnacles were growing on the exterior.

Anyone who has one of these canisters should call their nearest police or Fire and Rescue NSW.