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California Lawmakers Seek Cleanup of Old Dumped DDT Barrels (1)

April 30, 2021, 7:09 PMUpdated: April 30, 2021, 9:14 PM

California lawmakers are urging federal officials and Congress to act after researchers mapped what appeared to be more than 25,000 barrels dumped in an area off the coast of Los Angeles known for DDT contamination.

The Environmental Protection Agency is also working with state and federal agencies to investigate historical dumping of acid waste containing the pesticide dichlorodiphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT) in a nearby area northeast of Santa Catalina Island, Mike Alpern, EPA’s director of public affairs for the agency’s Pacific Southwest region, said in an email.

The Assembly passed a resolution 70-0 Thursday calling for action, following the mapping announcement earlier this week. The resolution now needs Senate approval to be forwarded to Congress.

“This is probably the greatest environmental crime in the history of California,” Assembly member Al Muratsuchi (D) said before the vote. “We need to call out the federal authorities, the EPA, to prosecute this as what it is, an environmental crime.”

The pesticide was banned for agricultural in the U.S. in 1972, with opposition driven by Rachel Carson’s 1962 book “Silent Spring,” which helped inspire the environmental movement.

Dumped From Vessels

Researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California San Diego found barrels throughout 36,000 acres of the sea floor, they said at an Apr. 26 virtual briefing arranged by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

Patterns of the debris field suggest the barrels were dumped from moving vessels for as long as 11 miles, Eric Terrill, the chief scientist on the expedition, said in an interview Friday.

More research is needed to get the full picture because the expedition was able to only look at one of two dumping sites. The second is further out in the ocean and where dumping of DDT waste was permitted. It’s possible some of the disposal firms used the closer site instead for the pesticide materials, he said.

Researchers now need to complete mapping of the first site and to explore the second location, as well as determine what exactly is in the barrels.

“There’s conflicting records,” Terrill said. “We’re not even sure if we got the full extent of the debris field.”

The Los Angeles Times reported in October that dumping occurred in the area decades ago, which led to the ocean floor mapping by Scripps and the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“The expedition’s findings confirm fears that a large number of barrels containing DDT-laced industrial waste were dumped off the coast of California and are now impacting marine life and potentially public health,” Feinstein said in a statement after the Scripps briefing.

Feinstein sent letters to the EPA and Commerce Department last month asking them to prioritize cleanup of the site.

Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, is concerned by the findings and will work with Feinstein and Biden to clean up the site, communications director Vanessa Valdivia said in an email.

State Jurisdiction

California’s environmental agencies have met multiple times with the EPA, though the state has jurisdiction only three miles into the ocean.

California Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Jared Blumenfeld would like to see an investigation in the San Pedro Basin where DDT waste from Montrose Chemical Corp. has been documented, he said in a letter to EPA Region 9.

The basin is within the area Scripps surveyed and where Montrose’s disposal company and others dropped waste until the Ocean Dumping Act passed in 1972, Scripps said.

Montrose manufactured DDT for 35 years at its Torrance, Calif. site, which was added to the EPA’s Superfund list in 1989. Remediation of coastal areas is still ongoing.

(Updated to include information from expedition's chief scientist in paragraphs 8-10.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Emily C. Dooley at edooley@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chuck McCutcheon at cmccutcheon@bloombergindustry.com

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