West Coast
David Valentine, UC Santa Barbara

CA - California Lawmakers Seek Cleanup of Old Dumped DDT Barrels

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.

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.”

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