West Coast
Dr. David Valentine / UCSB

CA - Silent sea: UC Santa Barbara scientist locates thousands of DDT-filled barrels in Catalina Channel

Reports in old ship logs of thousands of barrels of DDT being dumped into the Catalina Channel during the 1950s were confirmed in 2011 by photographs taken by UC Santa Barbara marine scientist Dr. David Valentine

September 19, 2018

Peninsula residents have grown up seeing “Do Not Eat Contaminated Fish” signs at local piers and beaches. The signs warn against catching and eating White Croaker, Black Croaker, Barred Sand Bass, Topsmelt and Barracuda.

The signs trace back to the period between 1947 and 1982 when Montrose Chemical Corporation of California, in Torrance, was the United States’ largest producer of the insecticide DDT.

Montrose Chemical dumped an estimated 1,700 tons of DDT into the Pacific Ocean by way of a Los Angeles County sewer pipe that emptied into the ocean through submarine outfalls off White Point on the Palos Verdes peninsula between the late 1950s and early 1970s.

The DDT entered the food chain after worms and microorganisms living on the ocean floor were eaten by bottom feeding fish. Increasingly concentrated DDT worked its way up the food chain, through fish-eating birds, marine mammals and birds of prey. Bald Eagles on Catalina Island became unable to reproduce after DDT caused their egg shells to become too thin to carry eaglets to term.

In 2011, UC Santa Barbara scientist Dr. David Valentine stumbled upon another concentration of DDT in the Catalina Channel, in barrels 3,000 feet below surface, while using a borrowed deep-sea robot.

Last October, Los Angeles Times reporter Rosanna Xia drew attention to Valentine’s discovery in a lengthy page one story.

Valentine is a researcher and professor of earth science and biology at UCSB, where he specializes in geochemistry, microbiology and marine science.

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