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Using underwater robots that can travel more than half a mile down, a research team from the University of California at Santa Barbara recently uncovered new evidence on the ocean floor of thousands of drums full of the notorious pesticide DDT, which has been banned in the U.S. for decades. The Los Angeles Times’ Rosanna Xia chronicles the discovery by scientist David Valentine, who was chasing a hunch off the coast of Santa Catalina Island and found the barrels bubbling — leaking highly concentrated and toxic DDT where they were dumped decades ago by Montrose Chemical Corporation. The company became notorious for dumping DDT in the near offshore of Palos Verdes through sewage pipes — the Superfund site was well known. But no one knew for certain about the dumping by ships into the deeper ocean until now.
The extent to which dumping took place would shock people today. And yet, decades ago, people thought dropping things into the ocean was a relatively safe alternative as compared to burning DDT or putting it in landfills that had limited storage capacity. According to Xia, “Dumping industrial chemicals near Catalina was an accepted practice for decades…Explosives, oil refinery waste, trash, and rotting meats all went into the ocean, along with beryllium, various acid sludges, even cyanide.” Finally, in 1972, Congress passed the Ocean Dumping Act, and that’s when the practice started to end. While the nearshore dumping of DDT became a highly contentious and ugly Superfund battle, the dumping of the drums went basically unnoticed for decades. The Superfund site was one of the most complicated ever because located 2 miles offshore and 200 feet deep, it was three times deeper than similar Superfund sites in Boston and New York harbors. Eventually, the case settled with Montrose paying $140 M for cleanup.
The ocean drums haunted some scientists who had an inkling they were out there. Then along came the UCSB researchers with their deep-sea robot who stumbled on the leaking barrels and grabbed some sediment samples. They also took photos and those made it clear the toxic ooze was spreading from the barrels. The scientists determined based on the samples that the form of DDT they found at depth was different than that found in the Superfund site — so it had not traveled there — it had to have been dumped. The area around the Superfund site is starting to come back. But this new site is just coming into focus and scientists worry that they will continue to have to clean up messes like this one in the ocean. Another prominent researcher put it this way, “These chemicals are still out there, and we haven’t figured out what to do,” he said. “They are an issue, and we still don’t have a plan.” The Times contacted Montrose about the story but “they declined to comment on the new underwater data and noted that the ocean claims related to the DDT operation were resolved 20 years ago.”
ABC News reports that there is a creeping underground invasion of our coasts, and it is moving inland much faster than had been previously thought, according to new research funded by the National Science Foundation. The stealth invader? Saltwater, which is infiltrating our coastal communities and creating unseen risks well in advance of the surface floods that drown our homes and businesses.
Why this Matters: This problem will become more and more common as climate change continues, causing widespread displacement across the world.
by Amy Lupica, ODP Contributing Writer According to a 2020 U.N. environmental report, seagrass “prairies” play a massive role in the health of the world’s oceans and if nothing is done to stop their decline, the world will face serious consequences. Seagrasses support rich biodiversity that sustains a whopping 20% of the world’s fisheries, and […]
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